US hints at North Korean torpedo attack
By Jung Sung-ki
The U.S. government believes a North Korean torpedo attack was the most likely cause of the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship, a foreign diplomatic source in Seoul said Sunday, citing solid "circumstantial evidence."
The remarks come as South Koreans increasingly believe the communist North was responsible for the sinking that left 46 sailors dead.
A joint investigation team involving U.S. and other foreign experts has tentatively concluded that the mysterious sinking was due to a "close-range" explosion under the 1,200-ton frigate Cheonan while it was on patrol in waters off the disputed western sea border with North Korea.
After examining the wreckage of the ship salvaged last month, investigators indicated the ship was damaged by an explosive air bubble shockwave caused by a torpedo or a mine. But they have so far taken care not to directly accuse the North.
"Almost all circumstantial evidence points to a torpedo attack though there is still ambiguity that should be dealt with," the source said on condition of anonymity. "The question is who is it, but there are few candidates."
If there is a "strong pointer" toward 99 percent certain, the remaining 1 percent of doubt will not so be meaningful, the diplomat said, apparently rebutting the possibility of other causes such as a reef or metal fatigue.
U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp will soon get a briefing on the interim results of the ongoing probe from a team of U.S. experts taking part in the investigation, said the source.
As for the possibility of referring the Cheonan issue to the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the diplomat said China and Russia, North Korea's traditional allies that serve as permanent members of the council and have veto power, have to play a role.
"To refer the Cheonan case to the UNSC, the issue should be proved to be related to the security of the world community. I believe the first question has already been passed," said the diplomat. "Then the support of the UNSC members is crucial."
The council is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its powers, outlined in the United Nations Charter, include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, international sanctions, and the authorization of military action.
There are 15 members of the council, consisting of five veto-wielding permanent members ― the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia and France ― and 10 elected non-permanent members with two-year terms.
Currently, experts from the U.S., U.K., Australia and Sweden are participating in the investigation of the ship sinking.
Seoul officials said last week that the government would give a briefing on the results to China and Russia before taking the incident to the UNSC.
"I think China has a strong interest in resolving this, not only because of its relations with the ROK government but also because it happened in its neighborhood," the source said, referring to the acronym of South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.
As for growing calls by conservatives here to delay the transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean troops from the U.S. military to Korean commanders in 2012, the source said the U.S. position remains unchanged, but the issue is open to discussion by both governments.
"There has been no official discussion yet on delaying the OPCON transfer. But the U.S. is open to listening to South Korean concerns about the transition of wartime command."
미국 천안함 원인 북한의 어뢰공격에 무게
미 정부는 천안함 침몰의 원인이 정황상 북한의 어로 공격일 가능성이 높다고 판다하고 있는 것으로 알려졌다.
한 외교 소식통은 “물론 아직 의문점은 남아있지만 현재까지 거의 모든 정황증거가 어뢰공격을 암시하고 있다”라며 “이제 문제는 누가 범인이냐는 것이지만 사실 범인 가능성이 있는 국가는 뻔한 것 아니냐”라고 말했다.
소식통은 "99퍼센트의 확실한 증거가 있는 상황에선 남은 1퍼센트의 의문점에 시선을 돌리는 것은 큰 의미가 없는 것"이라며 암초와 선체 피로파괴로 인한 침몰에 대한 가능성을 사실상 배제했다.
월터 샤프 주한미군 사령관은 조만간 현재 합동 조사에 참여하고 있는 미국 전문가들로부터 조사 결과에 대한 중간 보고를 받을 것으로 알려졌다.
이 소식통은 천안함 사건을 유엔 안전보장 이사회에 상정하기 위해선 상임이사국인 중국과 러시아의 역할이 크다고 말했다.
그는 “유엔안보리 상정의 조건으로는 우선 이 사안이 국제 안보정세에 영향을 끼쳤냐는 판단인데, 이 문제는 이미 해결된 것 같다”며 “결국 유엔 상임이사국으로부터 지지를 얻어 낼 수 있을지 여부가 중요할 것”이라고 말했다.