SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea said on Sunday it would take the case of its sunken naval vessel to the U.N. Security Council to try to tighten the economic vice on impoverished North Korea after accusing it of torpedoing the ship.
The sinking in March of the Cheonan corvette, killing 46 sailors, has sharply raised tensions on the Korean peninsula, rattled investors in South Korea and threatens to divide major powers in the economically powerful region.
“The president will present frameworks of measures, one about our own steps and the other about measures through international cooperation ... He will also mention a plan to bring the case to the U.N. Security Council,” presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.
He said President Lee Myung-bak would address the issue in a speech on Monday, scheduled for 0100 GMT (9 p.m. EDT Sunday).
In what is likely to further goad the prickly North, the spokesman said the president may mention North Korean leader Kim Jong-il by name in his speech.
Pyongyang, which says it is innocent, is already fuming after international investigators pointed the finger of blame at a North Korean submarine and said it was ready to go to war if South Korea retaliated.
Seoul has made clear it will not launch any military strike and, because relations have almost frozen since Lee took office in 2008, has little left to punish North Korea apart from seeking more international economic sanctions.
South Korea can be sure of a sympathetic hearing from permanent U.N. Security Council members the United States and Britain, both of which sent officials to help the investigation into the sinking.
“We’ve coordinated closely and we’re going to back all the steps that the South Koreans will announce tomorrow,” a senior U.S. official told reporters in Beijing, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds high-level talks this week.
It will be much harder to win over China, which effectively bankrolls North Korea’s ruined economy and which has so far declined to be drawn on the question of who sank the vessel.
Washington, struggling to keep its own relations with China on an even keel, has called for an “international response” to the incident. It has yet to specify what that might mean.
Clinton discussed the matter with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo at dinner on Sunday, a U.S. official said, saying Beijing has at times displayed “exasperation” with Pyongyang but does not wish to destabilize the Korean Peninsula.
“We want China to know the seriousness of how we view the situation,” said the official, who spoke on condition that he not be named. “We want them to take some steps in the international (arena) to underscore ... that.”
The issue is likely to overshadow a summit of leaders from China, Japan and South Korea this month.
“Japan has said it will cooperate with South Korea when deciding how it will act. So I think we will consider our action accordingly,” Hidenobu Sobashima, deputy press secretary at the Foreign Ministry, told Reuters.
North Korea already faces a series of U.N. sanctions for past nuclear and missile tests and which are sapping what little is left of a crippled economy that can barely feed the population and has relied heavily on weapons exports to earn foreign currency.
Analysts say that China is willing to prop up the North Korean government rather than risk the isolated state’s implosion spilling across its border and may be unwilling to further sanction Pyongyang.
Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Beijing; Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Jeremy Laurence