North Korea said yesterday it was willing in principle to return to nuclear disarmament talks after the UN failed to blame it for a deadly attack on a South Korean warship.
North Korea, which denies US and South Korean claims that it torpedoed the ship with the loss of 46 lives, said it was vindicated by the UN statement which was watered down under pressure from Pyongyang’s ally China.
All parties in the dispute, which has sharply raised regional tensions, professed satisfaction with the compromise statement adopted on Friday, which condemns the March attack without specifying the culprit.
North Korea said the statement exposes the “foolish calculation” of the US and South Korea in bringing the issue to the UN.
North Korea warned of “strong physical retaliation” if they press on with countermeasures over the sinking.
If hostile forces persist in “demonstration of forces and sanctions,” they would not escape “strong physical retaliation” or evade responsibility for escalating the conflict, a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in official media.
The South Korean and US navies are planning a joint exercise to deter North Korean “provocation.” Seoul has announced reprisals including a partial trade cut-off.
Repeating its earlier stance, North Korea said it would make “consistent efforts for the conclusion of a peace treaty and the denuclearization through the six-party talks conducted on equal footing.”
North Korea abandoned the six-party talks in April last year. It calls for talks on a formal peace treaty with the US, and an end to sanctions, before returning to the nuclear dialogue.
South Korea, its ally the US and several other countries had urged the UN to censure North Korea for the sinking, but China resisted such a move.
The statement condemns the attack as a threat to regional peace and calls for “appropriate and peaceful measures” against those responsible.
It expresses deep concern at the findings of a multinational investigation team which concluded North Korea was to blame, but “takes note” of North Korea’s denial of responsibility.
The statement welcomes Seoul’s restraint and calls for direct talks to settle disputes on the peninsula peacefully.
North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Sin Son-ho, hailed the statement as “our great diplomatic victory.”
The foreign ministry spokesman was less triumphal, but noted the call for dialogue.
The spokesman complained that the UN “hastily tabled and handled the case before the truth of the case has been probed” and said the issue should have been handled between the two Koreas.
North Korea “remains unchanged in its stand to probe the truth about the case to the last,” it said, describing the allegations against it as a “conspiratorial farce.”
South Korea welcomed the UN’s stance, saying it “emphasized the importance of preventing further provocations,” but called on North Korea to accept responsibility for the attack and make an apology.
South Korea’s defense ministry said there was no change to its plan to carry out a joint naval exercise with the US in the Yellow Sea, despite objections from China.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will visit South Korea this month, said the UN had sent a warning to North Korea “that such irresponsible and provocative behavior is a threat to peace and security in the region and will not be tolerated.”