U.N. Security Council Deadlocked Over Blaming N. Korea for Attack on South

December 20, 2010 - 5:51 AM

SKorea troops

South Korean Marines patrol on Yeonpyeong island on Monday, Dec. 20, 2010. (AP Photo/ Ahn Young-joon)

(CNSNews.com) – Almost a month after a deadly North Korean artillery attack on its southern neighbor, the United Nations Security Council has failed to agree on condemning Pyongyang for the incident, amid fears that more aggression may be looming.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice on Sunday defended South Korea’s right to hold military exercises Monday off the disputed maritime border where last month’s attack occurred; China and Russia both urged Seoul to call off the drill, which North Korea warned Saturday could “lead to an actual war.”

A 90-minute live-fire exercise went off Monday afternoon without any problems reported. (North Korea later called  the South Korean firing drills "reckless military provocation" but said it won't retaliate.)

Before the exercise began, the South Korean government advised inhabitants of Yeonpyeong island to take to bomb shelters as a precaution. On Nov. 23 North Korean forces shelled the island in the Yellow Sea, killing two soldiers and two civilians.

The Seoul-based United Nations Command concluded the North’s attack violated the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953, while the South’s retaliatory fire was an exercise of its “inherent right of self defense.”

South Korea

South Koreans take refuge in a bomb shelter on an island near the maritime border with North Korea on Monday, Dec. 20, 2010, after North Korea threatened to retaliate for South Korean live-fire drills. (AP Photo/Yonhap)

Russia

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin proposed a statement that urged all concerned parties to “exercise maximum restraint” and said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should send an envoy to both Koreas

But after six hours of behind-closed-doors deliberations the session ended without agreement. Rice told reporters that the “vast majority” of members were ready to condemn North Korean aggression, but that consensus was elusive.

She did not name the Security Council member or members preventing consensus but other council diplomats said China – North Korea’s closest ally – had refused to okay the inclusion of a sentence condemning North Korea.

Rice indicated that there had been an attempt to produce a statement on North Korea that was vague about the context of and responsibility for the aggression.

“I think the vast majority of the members of the council believes that it would not be productive for there to be a statement that was ambiguous in some fashion about what had transpired in the run-up to today,” she said.

(Last July the council adopted a statement condemning the sinking four months earlier of a South Korean naval vessel. Forty-six sailors died in the sinking, which an international investigation found was caused by a North Korean torpedo. But the council statement, at China’s insistence, did not directly blame North Korea.)

Addressing the council Sunday, Rice disputed the contention that South Korea’s live-firing drill off Yeonpyeong island would be provocative.

South Korea

South Korean villagers watch smoke rising from Yeonpyeong island after North Korea fired artillery barrages on November 23. 2010. (AP Photo/Yonhap, File)

“There is nothing unusual about these planned drills,” she said. “They are exclusively defensive in nature, and they have been regularly conducted for years.”

“The conduct of defensive exercises is nothing less than prudent given that North Korean belligerence has cost 50 South Korean lives in the last nine months alone,” Rice added.

Late last week Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun called in the South Korean ambassador to object to the military exercise. The Xinhua news agency quoted Zhang Saturday as calling the situation on the peninsula “extremely precarious, highly complicated and sensitive.”

Russia’s foreign ministry also issued a statement urging South Korea “to refrain from conducting the planned firing in order to prevent a further escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula.”

All countries involved should “exercise maximum restraint and moderation,” it said.

China and Russia both share borders with North Korea.

South Korean President Lee Myun-bak, who together with the military came in for some domestic criticism after the Yeonpyeong shelling for not responding more forcefully, has refused to back down on the drill.

His ruling conservative Grand National Party has called for a “strong” response; The liberal opposition Democratic Party said the exercise should be delayed.

A weekend North Korean foreign ministry statement accused the U.S. of “egging” its ally in Seoul to be provocative, and warned that “the hostile forces” would be to blame for any “second Yeonpyeong island incident.”

“The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK has already clarified solemnly that they would mete out decisive and merciless punishment to the provocateurs who encroach upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the DPRK,” it said.

The initials stand for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Stalinist state’s official name.

pressed for Sunday’s emergency Security Council meeting, urging the 15-nation body to “send a restraining signal” to both South and North Korea.