May 24, 2010
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s president said Monday his nation will no longer tolerate North Korea’s “brutality” and said the regime would pay for a surprise torpedo attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
President Lee Myung-bak vowed to take Pyongyang to the U.N. Security Council over the March 26 sinking of the warship and said Seoul would cut all trade with the impoverished regime — measures aimed at striking back at the isolated wartime foe diplomatically and financially.
President Barack Obama said Washington fully supports South Korea’s bid to take North Korea to the Security Council and would conduct its own review of U.S. policies on North Korea, the White House said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Beijing trying to get China’s support for a coordinated diplomatic response. China, a veto-wielding permanent seat holder on the Security Council and North Korea’s main ally and benefactor, has refrained from criticizing the neighboring nation.
The March sinking of the Cheonan was South Korea’s worst military disaster since the 1950-53 Korean War. Fifty-eight sailors were rescued from the choppy Yellow Sea waters near the Koreas’ maritime border, but 46 perished.
An international team of investigators concluded last week that a a midget torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine tore the ship in two.
Lee, addressing the nation from the War Memorial, called it a “military provocation” that was part of an “incessant” pattern of attacks by communist North Korea, including the downing of an airliner in 1987 that killed 115 people.
“We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean peninsula,” Lee said.
“But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts,” he said. “I will continue to take stern measures to hold the North accountable.”
The truce signed in 1953 prevents South Korea from taking unilateral military action, but Lee said troops were prepared to defend the nation.
Defense Minister Kim Tae-young also announced joint military drills with the U.S., which has 28,500 troops in South Korea. He said Seoul will also resume psychological warfare against the North that had been suspended in 2004 during a period of warming relations.
North Korea has steadfastly denied responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan. Naval spokesman Col. Pak In Ho warned last week in comments to broadcaster APTN that any move to retaliate or punish Pyongyang would mean war.
As Lee spoke Monday, North Korea’s main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, called the investigation results an “intolerable, grave provocation” tantamount to a declaration of war.
“The traitor’s group will not avoid our merciless punishment,” the paper said in commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
On Monday, the North Korean military warned it would shoot at any propaganda loudspeakers installed in the Demilitarized Zone.
“More powerful physical strikes will be taken to eradicate the root of provocation if (South Korea) challenges to our fair response,” a commander said, according to KCNA.
North Korea routinely denies involvement in attacks blamed on Pyongyang, including a 1983 bombing in Burma targeting a South Korean presidential delegation and the 1987 downing of the airliner over the Andaman Sea. Burma has since renamed itself Myanmar.
Pyongyang also disputes the western maritime border unilaterally drawn by U.N. forces at the close of the Korean War, and the Koreas have fought three bloody skirmishes there, most recently in November.
Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, laying out economic strikes against the North, said the regime’s cargo ships would not be allowed to pass through South Korean waters.
Imports of sand and other goods would be cut off, he said. Seoul has been North Korea’s No. 2 trading partner with $1.68 billion in trade in 2009, according to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.
However, the biggest source of trade — a joint factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong where some 110 South Korean firms employ about 42,000 North Koreans — will stay open for now, he said. Seoul will also continue providing some humanitarian help, Hyun said.
Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Seoul’s countermeasures had the support of 21 nations — including the U.S., Japan, Britain and France. He said Seoul has also been working with China and Russia.
North Korea has been punished with two Security Council resolutions since conducting a nuclear test in 2006. Punitive measures could include more economic sanctions.
“I think these are acceptable countermeasures,” businessman Park Joo-shin, 53, said in Seoul. “We can’t just sit by and watch them do this.”