- Associated Press - Sunday, May 23, 2010

BEIJING | U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging China to work with the United States to coordinate a response to the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea.

Opening two days of high-level U.S.-China talks in Beijing, Mrs. Clinton said Monday that North Korea must be held to account for the incident that international investigators have determined was caused by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine.

China is North Korea’s main ally and has thus far remained neutral on the investigation.

South Korea will ask the U.N. Security Council later Monday to take up the matter, which it sees as a violation of the truce that ended the Korean War. U.S. officials say they have more work to do to convince China that North Korea was responsible for the ship’s sinking.

Mrs. Clinton called the situation with North Korea a “matter of urgent concern.”

“Today, we face another serious challenge provoked by the sinking of the South Korean ship. So we must work together … to address this challenge and advance our shared objectives of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” she said.

“We ask North Korea to stop its provocative behavior, halt its policy of threats and belligerence toward its neighbors,” Mrs. Clinton said

A senior Obama administration official said Sunday that the U.S. hasn’t swayed China on the need to punish North Korea and Iran heading into the talks.

While an international report has found the North responsible, China isn’t convinced, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the conversation at a private dinner hosted by State Councilor Dai Bingguo for Mrs. Clinton.

A second stalemate involves specifics about new U.N. penalties against Iran over its disputed nuclear program. It’s evident the U.S. faces a struggle in securing China’s cooperation on both issues, expected to be the subject of intense consultations during the Beijing sessions. Mrs. Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner are leading the U.S. delegation.

At the dinner, the official said, the American side made clear how serious the U.S. and its allies South Korea and Japan take the sinking of the Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 sailors in the South’s worst military disaster since a truce ended the Korean War in 1953.

An international team of civilian and military investigators said in a report Thursday that a North Korean submarine fired a homing torpedo at the ship, ripping it in two. North Korea has denied any role.

South Korea announced Monday that it would take the issue to the U.N. Security Council. President Lee Myung-Bak also told reporters in Seoul that his country will cut trade links with Pyongyang and ban North Korean merchant ships from using the South’s shipping lanes.

The U.S. official said there had been close consultation between Washington and Seoul and that the U.S. would support the South’s position.

China, North Korea’s primary ally and benefactor, holds a permanent, veto-wielding seat on the Security Council, making its backing for any penalties essential. Beijing has called the sinking “unfortunate,” but has said little else publicly.

North Korea on Sunday threatened to “crush” South Korea and said the report was an “enormous fabrication” designed to justify an invasion of the North in collaboration with the U.S. 

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