Differences on Korean crisis unlikely to be bridged: US

Sunday, December 19, 2010

NEW YORK - The US said late Sunday that differences among UN Security Council members regarding the military crisis on the Korean peninsula are difficult to resolve, but the council will continue its deliberations.

US Ambassador Susan Rice, the council president, told reporters following nearly eight hours of closed-door discussion that there was no unanimity among Security Council members to even condemn the Nov 23 shelling by North Korea against a South Korea island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.

She said most council envoys had not received clear instructions from their governments about ways to handle the crisis, adding to the difficulty of reaching a common position to face the mounting challenge of thwarting a new conflict on the Korean peninsula.

“It is safe to predict that the gaps that remain are unlikely to be bridged,” Rice said.

She reiterated Washington’s support of South Korea’s right to militarily defend itself and said North Korea has no right to attack a UN member. She said the Seoul government is entitled to hold live-fire military exercise, which are scheduled to take place Monday or Tuesday.

North Korea has threatened catastrophic consequences if the exercises are held.

China is North Korea’s traditional ally, though Beijing has been quiet since the crisis started last month. As a permanent member, China can veto Security Council actions.

“Those are routine defensive exercises,” Rice said. “The Republic of Korea has every need and right to ready its self defence, having lost some 50 citizens over the course of the last months.”

She said the council would pursue its discussion once its members have all received instructions from their governments.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said the council apparently favoured dispatching an envoy to both North and South Korea, tasked with trying defuse the rising military tensions, which are threatening another Korean War.

Churkin said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should consider sending the envoy himself, because the action would not require council approval, calling it “not a controversial subject”.

Churkin said if the council had approved his idea for issuing a call for exercising “maximum restraint”, the issue of the envoy would have been approved promptly.

Russia spearheaded efforts in the council to try to head off any military conflict between North and South Korea. Churkin said the call for maximum restraint was appropriate considering the lack of a diplomatic vehicle to lower the tensions, including the return to the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, Russia, China, the US and Japan.

Churkin said the council could not agree on a common position late Sunday.

Churkin said the council may meet Monday to pursue its discussion on the Korean peninsula.

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