N.Korea Digs in Heels Over Cheonan Sinking

      November 03, 2010 12:52

      North Korea on Tuesday denied any involvement in sinking the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan based on what it claims was an internal investigation, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported. The statement was issued by the top decision-making National Defense Commission.

      Earlier on May 28, the commission held a press conference for domestic and foreign journalists to rebut the findings of an international probe that put the blame squarely on the North.  

      A South Korean security official said Pyongyang "apparently decided to refuse South Korea's repeated demands for an apology as a precondition for massive aid requested by the North."

      In inter-Korean Red Cross talks a week ago, the North demanded 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer if inter-Korean family reunions are to become more frequent.

      According to the KCNA, the North elaborated on 13 key points cited as evidence of the North's involvement, including the writing style of "No. 1" on the propulsion shaft of a torpedo recovered from the ocean floor, aluminum alloy fragments, the question whether the ship could have run aground, and footage from a thermal observation device. It called the international findings a "huge propaganda farce."

      But the statement was mostly a rehash of doubts raised previously by leftwing media outlets and organizations in South Korea. The only thing that was new was a claim that the aluminum alloy fragments could not have come from a North Korean torpedo. "We use torpedoes made of steel alloy, not aluminum alloy, and are willing to hand samples over to the U.S. imperialists and the traitorous clique" -- code for the South Korean government -- it said.

      A Defense Ministry spokesman said, "The North's statement doesn't deserve more than passing notice as it's a mere reheating of doubts raised by some people before." He said analysis of metal components of the propulsion shaft and motor of the torpedo showed that the fixed rudder and shaft were made completely of steel and the propeller of aluminum alloy, and pointing out that the body was not made of aluminum is neither here nor there. 

      Experts speculate the sudden announcement has something to do with recent remarks by senior South Korean officials. In an interview with the Chosun Ilbo last Friday, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said, "The North should show responsible attitude to the Cheonan sinking." Otherwise, South Korea "has no plan to push for an inter-Korean summit or high-level talks."

      And presidential chief of staff Yim Tae-hee on Monday said whether an inter-Korean summit can be held "depends on the North. It has to show a sincere willingness to change. Everybody knows what change I'm talking about." In October last year, Yim talked in secret with North Korean officials to discuss an inter-Korean summit.

      They were confirming that an apology must precede any change in attitude amid speculation that the government will soften its North Korea policy due to the North's charm offensive toward the South.

      A diplomatic source said, "It's difficult for the North to apologize now after China has openly sided with it over the Cheonan sinking." Some government officials are worried that the latest statement makes it even more difficult to find any middle ground and relieve tensions.

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