Looks like it's now official.
South Korea: North responsible for torpedo attack on warship
By John Pomfret and Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 18, 2010; 2:47 PM
South Korea will formally blame North Korea on Thursday for launching a torpedo at one of its warships in March, causing an explosion that killed 46 sailors and heightened tensions in one of the world's most perilous regions, U.S. and East Asian officials said.
South Korea reached its conclusion that North Korea was responsible for the attack after investigators from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States pieced together portions of the ship at the port of Pyongtaek, 40 miles southwest of Seoul. The Cheonan sank on March 26, following an explosion that rocked the vessel as it sailed in the Yellow Sea off South Korea's west coast.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because South Korea has yet to disclose the findings of the investigation, said that subsequent analysis determined that the torpedo was identical to a North Korean torpedo that had previously been obtained by South Korea.
South Korea's conclusion underscores the continuing threat posed by North Korea and the intractable nature of the dispute between the two Koreas. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak must respond forcefully to the attack, analysts said, but not in a way that would risk further violence from North Korea, whose artillery could –– within minutes –– devastate greater Seoul, which has a population of 20.5 million.
South Korea's report will also present a challenge to China and other nations. China waited almost a month to express its condolences to South Korea for the loss of life, and, analysts and officials said, has seemed at pains to protect North Korea from criticism.
South Korea will request that the U.N. Security Council take up the issue and is looking to tighten sanctions on North Korea, the officials said. The United States has indicated it would support such an action, U.S. officials said. Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told his South Korean counterpart on Monday that Japan would do the same, the Japanese news media reported Tuesday.
Another consequence of the report, experts predicted, is that Lee will request that the United States delay for several years a plan to pass operational control of all forces in South Korea from the United States to the South Korean military. Approximately 28,500 U.S. forces are stationed in South Korea.
South Korea's conclusion that North Korea was responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan also means it is unlikely that talks will resume anytime soon over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. North Korea has twice tested what is believed to be a nuclear weapon. China has pushed for an early resumption of those talks, but South Korean officials said they will return to the table only after there is a full accounting for the attack against the Cheonan and a policy response.
The sinking –– and the reluctance of the South to respond with an in-kind attack –– is the latest example of the raw military intimidation that North Korea has practiced for decades. With 1.19 million troops on active duty, the Korean People's Army has positioned about 70 percent of its fighting forces and firepower within 60 miles of the border with the South.
David Straub, a former director of the State Department's Korea desk who is now at Stanford University, said that while the Cheonan's sinking was horrendous, it marked more of a return to "normal" behavior for North Korea than a new direction.
"We tend to look at this as shocking because things have been relatively quiet for a decade or two," he said. But North Korea killed 30 sailors aboard a South Korean warship in the 1970s; in 1983, its agents are believed to have been behind a fatal bombing in Rangoon that narrowly missed then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan.
What has changed, Straub said, is the Western view of North Korea. In the past, North Korean misbehavior was often rewarded with Western attention and aid from Japan and South Korea. But after North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in May 2009, "opinion changed in a fundamental way," he said.
"Before there was a tendency of government officials to say, 'Well, maybe if we try hard enough to persuade the North Koreans to give up the bomb, they will,' " he said. "Now the conclusion of most people, including in the Obama administration, is that they can't see the North Koreans giving up their nuclear weapons on terms that would be acceptable to anyone."