x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

US and S Korea express solidarity over ship sinking

A senior American diplomat says the allies face Pyongyang from a position of "profound strength."

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA // South Korea and the United States expressed solidarity today over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship they blame on North Korea, with a senior American diplomat saying the allies face Pyongyang from a position of "profound strength." Tension is high on the Korean peninsula with North Korea warning any moves to punish it at the United Nations would lead to armed conflict and possibly nuclear war.

South Korea and the US have urged Pyongyang to avoid such provocations and vowed to hold the regime accountable for the March sinking of the warship Cheonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors. North Korea vehemently denies any role. "We face North Korean provocation from a position of profound strength," US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, said after meeting with officials in Seoul.

The two Koreas remain technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The truce was signed by North Korea, China and the American-led UN Command but not South Korea. The US retains about 28,500 troops in South Korea to deter possible aggression. The sinking occurred near the disputed western sea border - a scene of three bloody maritime battles between North and South Korea. The US and South Korea have announced plans for joint naval exercises near the site of the sinking, however, they have yet to take place.

Mr Campbell said the two countries will demonstrate their resolve in a number of ways in coming days including at the UN Security Council where he said they "are completely aligned." At the bilateral level, the US will also continue to stand with South Korea on such measures as "appropriate and responsible joint military activities," he said. Backed by the US and other countries, South Korea has taken its own punitive measures against North Korea, including trade restrictions. The North reacted angrily, declaring it was cutting off ties with Seoul and threatening to attack.

South Korea has taken the issue to the UN Security Council, where each side stated its case Monday over Seoul's request to punish Pyongyang over the sinking. North Korea's UN ambassador Sin Son Ho said at a rare news conference Tuesday in New York that its military will respond if the Security Council questions or condemns the country over the sinking. South Korea's new army chief of staff said today that North Korea has shown no signs of any unusual military activity, but cautioned there is still a "considerable" possibility of provocation by the North given its history of attacks on the South.

Mr Campbell said the international community must take a "strong stance" and Washington will strengthen cooperation with Seoul. "We are determined to show that our alliance is standing very firmly together during an absolutely critical period," Mr Campbell said in opening remarks at a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan. Yu replied South Korea is "satisfied with the watertight coordination at various levels."

Ahead of another meeting later, Mr Campbell and South Korean vice foreign minister Chun Yung-woo both called the current situation a "defining moment" for the U.S.-South Korean alliance. "We will demonstrate to the world how well our alliance works," Mr Chun said. Also Thursday, dozens of conservative activists rallied in Seoul for a second straight day. The civic group, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, has questioned whether the results of a joint investigation South Korea carried out with the US and other countries are sufficient to link North Korea to the sinking.

Minor scuffles erupted, but there were no immediate reports of injuries, according to Seoul police. Calls to the civic group went unanswered late Thursday afternoon. * AP