The top U.S. diplomat said Friday that North Korea should face international consequences over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, while the South said the U.N. would investigate whether the attack violated the Korean War truce.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called the sinking a "military provocation" and said it violated the U.N. Charter as well as the truce that ended the fighting in the 1950-53 conflict. But he called for a cautious response to this "serious and grave" issue.
Arriving in Tokyo ahead of a visit to Beijing and Seoul, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that U.S., Japan, South Korea and China are consulting on an appropriate reaction to an international investigation that blamed North Korea for the incident.
She said the report announced Thursday proves a North Korean sub fired a torpedo that sank the ship, the Cheonan on March 26 and that it could no longer be "business as usual" in dealing with the matter and that there must be "an international response."
While it was "premature" to discuss exact options or actions that will be taken in response, Clinton said it was "important to send a clear message to North Korea that provocative actions have consequences.
"The evidence is overwhelming and condemning. The torpedo that sunk the Cheonan ... was fired by a North Korean submarine," she told reporters.
North Korea said for a second day that war clouds loomed over the divided peninsula, and has asked to send its own team to investigate the site.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, speaking to reporters, called the request "irrational and incomprehensible."
Instead, Kim's ministry requested the U.N. Command's Military Armistice Commission, which oversees the truce, to conduct a probe separate from the multinational investigation.
"This incident was clearly a military attack against our naval warship that was carrying out a routine patrol operation — an explicit violation of the truce agreement," deputy defense minister Chang Kwang-il said.
The investigation can start as soon as this weekend, though North Korea will most likely reject access to investigators, Chang said. South Korea responded to the North's request to send investigators by telephone Friday, notifying it of the special U.N. probe.
"We were caught in a perfect military ambush by North Korea while our people were resting in the late hours," Lee said at an emergency national security meeting.
"Because this is a serious and important issue, I believe there must not be a single mistake in all of our responsive measures, and that we must be highly prudent," he said.
On Thursday, he vowed to take "resolute countermeasures" against the North. But military retaliation looked too dangerous and less of an option given the vulnerability of South Korea's capital, Seoul, and its 10 million some residents to North Korean artillery located just across the border.
Lee has not announced what steps South Korea will pursue against the North. Options include taking the issue to the U.N. Security Council, where North Korea has been previously sanctioned over nuclear and missile tests. He is expected to give an address to the nation on Monday or Tuesday.
Pyongyang reacted angrily Friday for a second day, with a senior official saying Seoul's stance was threatening peace and stability on the divided peninsula.
North Korea "will regard the present situation as the phase of a war and handle all problem in inter-Korean relations accordingly," Ri Chung Bok, deputy director of the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, said in an exclusive interview with broadcaster APTN in Pyongyang.
"If the (South Korean) puppet regime opts for countermeasures or retaliation over this ship sinking, we will respond mercilessly with the total freeze of inter-Korean relations, abrogation of the North-South agreement on non-aggression and a complete halt to the inter-Korean cooperation undertakings," Ri said.
Investigators in Seoul said torpedo parts found near the explosion site closely resemble a smaller, experimental torpedo that floated into South Korean waters in 2003 and match the schematics of a North Korean-made torpedo Pyongyang has tried to sell abroad.
On Thursday, North Korean navy spokesman Col. Pak In Ho told APTN that any retaliation over the sinking would mean "all-out war."
Lee has not announced what steps South Korea will pursue against the North. Options include taking the issue to the U.N. Security Council, where North Korea has been previously sanctioned over nuclear and missile tests.
South Korea, Japan and the U.S. issued sharp criticism over the sinking but China, Pyongyang's key ally, has refrained from doing so. Beijing called on all parties to "stay calm and exercise restraint."
Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee and Kelly Olsen in Seoul, Shino Yuasa in Tokyo, and Anne Flaherty and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
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