WRAPUP 3-U.S. says weighing new options over North Korea

* Asia must address North’s “dangerous provocations”-Gates

* Options could include unilateral sanctions, naval moves

* Crisis worrying with U.S.-China military ties strained
(Adds Pentagon official, diplomats)

By Adam Entous

SINGAPORE, June 5 (BestGrowthStock) – The United States said on
Saturday it is weighing new options beyond the United Nations
to punish North Korea, which South Korea blames for the sinking
of a warship that has escalated tensions on the peninsula.

Seoul has complained to the U.N. Security Council over the
sinking of the corvette Cheonan in March, killing 46 sailors.
South Korea and its main ally, the United States, blame the
shadowy North for torpedoing the ship, although it is unclear
what concrete action, if any, the U.N. will take.
[ID:nSGE6530EA]

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a security
conference in Singapore it was the “collective responsibility”
of Asian states to address North Korean “provocations”,
increasing pressure on a reluctant China to rebuke its
long-time ally.

“To do nothing would set the wrong precedent,” Gates said
at a meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

In private, Gates told the ministers it was critical to
show a “united front to deter further provocations” by the
unpredictable North, said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff
Morrell.

Gates said the United States would conduct more joint
military exercises with South Korea and support “action” by the
Security Council in response to the Cheonan attack.

“At the same time, we are assessing additional options to
hold North Korea accountable,” he said, suggesting the United
States and its allies could act unilaterally or in concert.

Officials said Washington was looking at a range of
options, which could include tightening economic sanctions,
expanding searches of North Korean vessels and holding more
large-scale shows of military force to try to deter future
attacks.

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For a Take-a-Look on North Korea, click on [nNORKOR]

For a factbox on political risk, click [ID:nRISKKR]

For a graphic of Korean maritime boundaries, click:
http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/RNGS/2010/JUNE/SKOREA.jpg

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North Korea denies responsibility for sinking the Cheonan
and accuses South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of staging the
incident to help his chances in local elections this week.

In increasingly shrill rhetoric, the North has warned
several times that “war could break out at any moment”.

Lee pledged to clamp down on any action deemed threatening
but dismissed the likelihood of open conflict. [ID:nTOE65400C]

“There is no possibility of a war. There has been
occasionally and locally peace-threatening behaviour but we
will strongly suppress it,” Lee’s spokesman, contacted by
telephone, quoted him as telling businessmen at the Singapore
summit.

“UNPREDICTABLE”

U.S. military officials, including Admiral Robert Willard,
head of the U.S. Pacific Command, have also played down the
risk of a major conflict, saying there were no signs North
Korea was preparing a nuclear test or moving troops towards the
South.

But another attack cannot be ruled out, officials said.
“When you’re dealing with a regime as unpredictable as (North
Korea), that is always a concern,” Morrell said.

Though stretched by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.
military insists that it is ready for any eventuality on the
Korean peninsula. “American military power, and particularly
conventional military power, is in my view as strong today as
it has ever been in the Pacific. We are looking at ways to
strengthen it further,” Gates said.

But in talks with Asian leaders, Gates and other officials
have made it very clear their goal is to avoid an escalation,
diplomats said.

The United States and South Korea face a difficult
balancing act — finding a way to punish the North without
provoking another attack. Underscoring those concerns, Gates
raised the possibility that Seoul would stop short of seeking a
full-blown Security Council resolution.

Planned U.S.-South Korea military drills might also be put
off, at least until it becomes clear what action the United
Nations is prepared to take, officials said.

The big question facing the United States, South Korea and
Japan is how to gain leverage over a regime that appears to be
indifferent to international pressure and responds in such
seemingly erratic ways.

China, North Korea’s only major ally and benefactor, may be
the central player, although some U.S. intelligence officials
have questioned how much sway it really has.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, China can
veto any proposed U.N. resolution or statement chastising the
North.

Without referring to China by name, Gates pointedly told
Asian leaders in Singapore that all the nations in the region
“share the task of addressing these dangerous provocations”.

“Inaction would amount to an abdication of our collective
responsibility to protect the peace and reinforce stability in
Asia,” he said.

Beijing has so far declined publicly to join international
condemnation of Pyongyang, saying it is assessing the evidence.

FRICTION

U.S. officials say it remains to be seen what position
China will ultimately take but acknowledge it appears reluctant
to embrace tough measures at the United Nations.

Likewise, Russia has yet to fully sign onto South Korea’s
version of events about the sinking, raising questions about
its position at the United Nations, they cautioned.

Beijing broke off military ties with Washington after it
told Congress in January of a plan to sell Taiwan, which
Beijing regards as a renegade state, up to $6.4 billion worth
of arms.

At the annual conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue,
Gates urged Beijing to accept the “reality” that Washington is
committed to arming Taiwan, like it or not.

That drew a sharp challenge from Major General Zhu Chenghu
of China’s National Defense University. He said continued arms
sales to Taiwan sent the message that America saw the Chinese
as “enemies”. Gates rejected that characterization, saying
China and the United States were partners in many areas.
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(Additional reporting by Harry Suhartono and Nopporn Wong-Anan
in SINGAPORE, and Kim Yeon-hee in SEOUL; Editing by Paul Tait)

WRAPUP 3-U.S. says weighing new options over North Korea