- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2010

South Korea’s president on Monday severed trade links with North Korea in response to the sinking of his country’s warship and said Pyongyang will “pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts.”

The White House said President Obama fully supports South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s actions and Mr. Obama ordered a review of U.S. policies toward North Korea.

The White House said that in response to the “pattern of North Korean provocation and defiance of international law, the president has directed U.S. government agencies to review their existing authorities and policies related to [North Korea]. This review is aimed at ensuring that we have adequate measures in place and to identify areas where adjustments would be appropriate.”

In an effort to win the North’s cooperation on denuclearization, the George W. Bush administration in 2008 took North Korea off the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism and eased trade sanctions by removing it from a Trading With the Enemy Act list in 2008.

North Korea has denied responsibility for the attack on the Cheonan, which sank in Yellow Sea on March 26. Investigators determined it was struck by a torpedo whose markings link it to North Korea.

In a speech in Seoul, Mr. Lee outlined his government’s response to the incident.

“We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

“But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts,” he added.

The White House described as “unequivocal” U.S. support for South Korea’s defense and said Mr. Obama had directed military commanders to coordinate closely with their South Korean counterparts to ensure readiness and deter aggression.

The U.S. and South Korea are expected to step up anti-submarine surveillance and joint naval exercises.

The Obama administration also pledged its support to South Korea’s decision to take the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea, on Monday called evidence of North Korean involvement in the sinking “overwhelming and deeply troubling.”

The White House said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is in Asia this week, and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice are consulting with their South Korean counterparts, as well as with Japan, China and other Security Council member states to reach agreement on the steps in council.

China has been less than enthusiastic about punishing North Korea over the Cheonan incident, in which 46 South Korean sailors lost their lives.

Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, described the sinking as a “tragic event.” He said China had expressed its condolences, which “fully shows China’s understanding and sympathy toward the grief of the [South Korean] people.”

Mr. Wang said China had taken note of the results of an international investigation.

“We maintain that all parties should stay calm, exercise restraint and properly handle relevant issues so as to avoid the escalation of the situation,” Mr. Wang said. “China has always viewed and treated international and regional issues on their own merits in a fair and objective manner. … We will continue to push forward the six-party talks and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and oppose behaviors against such efforts.”

In Beijing, Mrs. Clinton said the Obama administration is “in the midst of very intensive consultations with the Chinese government on this issue.”

“The Chinese understand the reaction by the South Koreans, and they also understand our unique responsibility for the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” she said. “The Chinese are taking this very seriously.”

Mrs. Clinton travels to Seoul on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Lee, meanwhile, have agreed to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Toronto next month.