Cheonan's sinking does not ensure relisting N. Korea as state terror sponsor: State Dept.

June 29, 2010 10:42 am 

By Hwang Doo-hyong

WASHINGTON/SEOUL, June 29 (PNA/Yonhap) — North Korea's torpedoing of a South Korean warship is a violation of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, but does not merit relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, the State Department said Monday.

"The sinking of the Cheonan is not an act of international terrorism and by itself would not trigger placing North Korea on the state sponsored terrorism list," spokesman Philip Crowley said. "It was a provocative action, but one taken by the military of a state against the military of another state. We believe the Cheonan was in fact a violation of the armistice."

Crowley was asked if Washington was considering putting North Korea back on the list, from which it was dropped in late 2008 under the Bush administration amid progress in the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons programs.

South Korea expressed understanding of the U.S. decision.

"It appears the U.S. government has conducted a legal review of related regulations so far," a foreign ministry official said on customary condition of anonymity. "We had also thought about relisting, but basically, terrorism is against civilians while the Cheonan incident was an armed attack on the military. They are a little different in nature."

The ship sinking is more serious than terrorism and poses threats to international peace and stability, and that is why South Korea brought the case to the U.N. Security Council, the official said.

An international probe concluded last month that a North Korean submarine torpedoed the Cheonan in the Yellow Sea in March, killing 46 sailors. North Korea denies involvement and has threatened war if condemned by the U.N. Security Council, where South Korea, the U.S. and their allies hope for a rebuke even if China and Russia remain lukewarm.

Crowley, however, said that the administration will continue to keep a close eye on North Korea for any terrorist acts.

"We continue to evaluate information that is consistently coming in to us regarding North Korean activities, and we will not hesitate to take action if we have information that North Korea has repeatedly provided support for acts of terrorism," he said. "We've sought meetings at various levels. And thus far they have not been set up. So that is an ongoing process."

North Korea was first put on the list after the downing of a Korean Air flight over Myanmar in 1987, which killed all 115 people onboard.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is believed to have been behind the incident as he was trying to consolidate his status as heir apparent to his father, then-North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il took power in 1994 when Kim Il-sung died of a heart attack.

Kim Jong-il allegedly masterminded the attack to disrupt the upcoming presidential election in South Korea and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

The Cheonan incident is reminiscent of the Korean Air attack.

Allegations are that Kim Jong-un, the third and youngest son of Kim Jong-il, is involved in the incident as he is trying to win key support from the military.

Neither Kim Jong-il nor Jong-un have any military background, unlike Kim Il-sung, the founding father of the North who served as a guerrilla leader against Japanese colonialists.

U.S. officials have expressed concerns over further provocations from North Korea due to uncertainties surrounding the third generation dynastic power transition.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama met in Toronto on Saturday on the margins of the G-20 economic summit and agreed to delay the transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean troops by more than three years to December 2015, citing the need to enhance their joint defense posture against any contingencies from the North.

The Cheonan issue apparently affected the decision, said Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

"By making this adjustment in the context of reaction to the Cheonan sinking, Washington and Seoul demonstrate more clearly that North Korea made its own situation worse, not better, by committing an act of war," he said. "This is the right message to send the North Korean government as it contemplates whether to try something like this again."

South Korea and the U.S. were supposed to stage joint military exercises this month near the scene of the Cheonan's sinking in the Yellow Sea, but they have yet to fix the date.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said earlier in the day that the exercise may be held in July, adding that a date has not yet been set and that "the details are still being worked out."

China has officially lodged a complaint against the proposed military exercise involving the aircraft carrier George Washington in waters between China and the Korean Peninsula.

Crowley, meanwhile, urged North Korea to cease provocations and abide by its denuclearization pledge.

"We obviously would like to see North Korea cease its provocative action and construct better relations with its neighbors, take affirmative steps towards denuclearization of the peninsula," he said. "Those will be the kinds of things that we think would create a proper environment to resolve the armistice and establish peace and stability in the peninsula. But that is at this point up to North Korea."

The spokesman also said South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, will visit Washington on Tuesday to meet with Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, for consultations on North Korea. (PNA/Yonhap)

ALM/ebp

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