Clinton: U.S. support for Seoul 'unequivocal' in North Korea dispute

The White House said Monday that North Korea should stop its “belligerent and threatening behavior,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged “unequivocal” support for Seoul in its escalating dispute with its neighbor.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama “fully supports” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who on Sunday cut off trade with North Korea and shut down sea lanes to North Korean ships in response to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. North Korea was found responsible for the attack by an international group of investigators.

The crisis represents a crucial diplomatic and political challenge to both President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTo Build Back Better, improving Black women's health is a must Rahm Emanuel has earned M since leaving Chicago's city hall: report 60 years after the Peace Corps, service still brings Americans together MORE and Clinton, who is in China this week for long-scheduled talks with the Chinese regime, a backer of North Korea.


Lee has called on the United Nations Security Council to punish Pyongyang, and Clinton said Monday that she would be working with South Korea, Japan, China and other Security Council member states on a response to North Korea.

Clinton hinted it was possible that North Korea could be listed again as a state sponsor of terrorism, something several lawmakers have called for. The George W. Bush administration removed North Korea from this list.

Clinton is talking to Chinese leaders about the dispute in Beijing, and will travel to Seoul on Wednesday.

Gibbs said he did not think Clinton and Obama spoke on Monday.

“The United States fully supports President Lee’s responsible handling of the Cheonan incident, and the objective investigation that followed, which we and other international observers joined,” Clinton told reporters traveling with her in China.

“The measures that President Lee announced in his speech are both prudent and entirely appropriate,” she said.


Winning Chinese support for a Security Council resolution punishing North Korea will be difficult, and adds another testy subject to an agenda filled with economic issues. The United States has also been trying to win Chinese support for tough sanctions on Iran.

Clinton said it would be “premature” to discuss details of her conversations with the Chinese, who “recognize the gravity of the situation we face.”

“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.”

Clinton said the United States had cooperated with China on North Korea last year, and that the two sides were off to a very good start with respect to the latest dispute.

She said the Chinese are “taking this very seriously, and recognize the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. And we will continue to work with them on the way forward.”

Clinton spoke a few hours after the White House called on North Korea to apologize and punish those responsible for sinking the South Korean ship.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday that “we’re going to make clear that there will be consequences.”

“And as the secretary has said, and the presidents of both the United States and South Korea have stressed, we will seek to put together a strong, concerted international response,” Crowley said.

Richard Bush, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, said that the Obama administration will likely be unable to effectively change the minds of Kim Jong-il’s regime, but “Washington should continue to pressure Beijing to have a firm response.”

“The United States should not expect to change [Kim Jong-il’s] policies, but should aim for the next leadership,” Bush said. “Therefore, working with Seoul on the steps that President Lee has laid out is appropriate.”

This story was posted at 9:50 a.m. and updated at 7:44 p.m.