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By Louis Charbonneau
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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – South Korea is ready to ask the U.N. Security Council to censure North Korea for allegedly torpedoing a South Korean warship but is waiting for the “best time,” a South Korean official said on Wednesday.
Anti-North Korea activists burn a North Korean flag and a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during a rally near the National Assembly in Seoul May 25, 2010. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak
South Korea accuses North Korea of torpedoing South Korea’s Cheonan corvette in March, killing 46 sailors — the deadliest military incident since the Korean War. It has vowed to bring the case to the council to demand a rebuke for Pyongyang.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday North Korea would be held accountable for the attack, “including at the United Nations Security Council.”
He repeated U.S. support for South Korea’s security and praised its “extraordinary patience and self-restraint.” Seoul has announced a series of sanctions against Pyongyang but has not launched any retaliatory military strikes.
After meeting with Mexican U.N. Ambassador Claude Heller, who is president of the council this month, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo told reporters that Seoul has not dropped plans to bring the case to the Security Council.
“I have discussed when would be the best time to refer this case to the Security Council,” Chun said about his meeting with Heller. “It depends on the schedule of the council.”
Asked when he would submit a letter formally requesting that the council take up the issue, Chun said: “At some point.”
“We will have to find out what would be the best time to begin deliberations on this issue,” he said. “When the council is ready to take this issue, then we will submit the letter.”
Chun denied that South Korea was deliberately delaying its request for the council to discuss the sinking of the ship. He also declined to comment on China’s position.
China, which is North Korea’s biggest trade partner and which fought alongside the North in 1950-1953 Korean War, has declined to publicly join international condemnation of Pyongyang, saying it is still assessing the evidence.
Council diplomats have said on condition of anonymity that China, a veto-wielding permanent Security Council member and North Korea’s only major ally, has made clear that Beijing would prefer not to take up the issue at the United Nations.
China, Western diplomats say, will not tolerate new sanctions against North Korea, while Seoul appears determined to have the council at least agree on some form of rebuke of North Korea.
At a three-way Japanese-Chinese-South Korean summit meeting last weekend, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao deflected pressure to censure North Korea, instead urging his neighbors to calm tensions over the sinking of the warship and avoid any clash that could shake Asia.
Wen did not mention North Korea by name, nor did he give any firm indication that China would accept any efforts to have the U.N. Security Council condemn or sanction the North.
Additional reporting by Ross Colvin in Washington, editing by Mohammad Zargham and Cynthia Osterman
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