UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council issued a statement July 9 allowing all sides in the latest Korea controversy to claim a victory. The statement reflected weeks of intense diplomatic wrangling, especially between the two Koreas, the U.S. and China, over the March 26 sinking of the South Korean military ship Cheonan. Nonetheless, it seems to have helped to diffuse some of the tension on the Korean peninsula.
The Security Council said in the statement that it "deplores" the attack on the ship and also "deplores the loss of life and injuries and expresses its deep sympathy and condolences to the victims and their families and to the people and government of" South Korea.
As for what should be done to the perpetrators of the sinking, it said "appropriate and peaceful measures" should be taken. But the statement clearly avoids any explicit blame. The council expressed "deep concern" regarding the results of the international investigation, led by South Korea, which found that the North was to blame for the sinking. But in the next paragraph, it also "takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the DPRK, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident."
DPRK is short for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.
For the statement to be approved, the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council - the U.S., the U.K., China, Russia and France - all had to sign off on it.
The U.S. and South Korea, as well as North Korea, have claimed a victory.
"The message to North Korean leadership is crystal clear," Susan Rice, President Obama's representative to the United Nations, told reporters after the UN meet. "The Security Council condemns and deplores this attack. It warns against any further attacks and insists on full adherence to the Korean armistice agreement."
She called for the North to respect the 1953 Korean armistice agreement, and added that all "outstanding issues" should be handled via peaceful diplomacy.
North Korean UN ambassador Sin Son Ho, who arrived 10 minutes or so after a press conference with representatives of the U.S., China and other Security Council members had ended, condemned the council for having "failed to bring the correct judgment or conclusion on the case." He also called for scrapping the armistice agreement and beginning direct peace talks.
Still, he said the lack of any direct accusation against North Korea in the statement was "our great diplomatic victory."
In reality, the most likely reason for the Security Council's vagueness was China's desire to see the issue settled quickly and without a direct condemnation of North Korea, which would likely have raised tensions in the region, possibly to the point of military provocation.
"We hope that relevant parties will continue to exercise calmness and restraint and take the opportunity to turn over the page of the Cheonan incident as soon as possible," Qin Gang, the spokesperson for China's foreign ministry, said in Beijing. "We call for an early resumption of the Six-Party Talks and joint efforts to maintain the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula."
North Korea has since sent contradictory signals. It proposed a return to talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula and, once again, called for negotiations for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that halted the Korean War. But, earlier Tuesday, the North, citing "administrative reasons," postponed scheduled talks with the U.S.-led UN Military Command, which oversees the armistice.
And though stating that he wants a peaceful resolution, a spokesperson for the North's foreign ministry said that, if "hostile forces" make any provocations or sanctions against his country, "they will neither be able to escape the DPRK's strong physical retaliation nor will be able to evade the responsibility for the resultant escalation of the conflict."
Nonetheless, many analysts see this as a beginning of a return to the icy "normality" that has existed between the two Koreas for the past few years.
Photo: A visitor takes a picture near the wreckage of the Cheonan at a South Korean Navy dock south of Seoul. (AP/Lee Jin-man)