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S. Korean ship sinking may affect...

2010-04-16 10:22:40

---By Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, April 15 (Yonhap) -- The sinking of a South Korean naval ship in waters near the disputed sea border with the North may undermine international efforts to revive the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear dismantlement, the State Department said Thursday.

"We are looking to see what North Korea's prepared to do, but obviously North Korea's behavior in the region has an impact in terms of creating the atmosphere for the six-party process to move forward," spokesman Philip Crowley said.

Earlier in the day, South Korea lifted the stern of the 1,200-ton ship, and retrieved scores of dead bodies. An explosion for unknown reasons ripped the ship into two pieces late last month.

South Korea has not yet determined the cause of the sinking, but Defense Minister Kim Tae-young has said that a North Korean torpedo attack remains a possibility. The North Korean maritime border has been the scene of three bloody inter-Korean naval skirmishes over the past decade, leaving 38 sailors dead and eight others missing.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has vowed his government will "respond in a firm manner" in the event of North Korea's involvement, muddying prospects for the restart of the nuclear talks. The six-nation negotiations have been stalled since early last year, when the United Nations imposed sanctions on the North for its nuclear and missile tests.

The U.S. has joined a team of several countries to salvage the vessel and determine the cause of the sinking.

"We are cooperating with South Korea in terms of the investigation of the tragic sinking of that ship," Crowley said. "Everyone wants to know what happened. We have no information at this point that there was particular action external to that ship. That's why it's being investigated."

Another State Department official, asking anonymity, would not link the ship sinking and the nuclear talks.

"Let's not jump to a conclusion here," the official said. "I wouldn't necessarily link them together. But obviously certain results could have a profound effect."

Crowley said that Washington is maintaining close cooperation with South Korea and other parties to the nuclear talks -- China, Japan and Russia.

"We would begin six-party talks in concert with our partners, but the first step is what North Korea has to do," he said.

South Korea's deputy national security adviser, Kim Tae-hyo, met with Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg earlier in the day to discuss the six-party talks, the ship sinking and other issues of mutual concern, State Department officials said, but would not elaborate on the substance.

North Korea said last week that the Obama administration's new nuclear policy has undermined the atmosphere for the resumption of the six-party talks.

The Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review, released last week, renounced for the first time the use of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear weapons states in compliance with international nonproliferation obligations, but left open all options, including a nuclear strike, on North Korea and Iran.

Pyongyang in response threatened to bolster its nuclear weapons and modernize them as a deterrent.

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