U.S. Waiting on Clinton Return

Following President Lee Myung Bak’s statement on the Cheonan sinking yesterday, the U.S. has said it will decide how to proceed with its own countrermeasures when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets back to Washington from her three-nation trip to northeast Asia later this week.

However, doubts persist as to the viability of re-designating North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism.

Speaking to the press in Beijing, Clinton first expressed unequivocal U.S. support for President Lee’s statement, saying, “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. The measures that President Lee announced in his speech are both prudent and entirely appropriate.”

Meanwhile, in yesterday’s State Department press briefing, spokesman Philip Crowley explained the U.S.’ plan going forward, “The Secretary will have meetings in Beijing tomorrow and in Seoul on Wednesday and we will consider further steps, and then she’ll bring that perspective back here to Washington.”

In addition, Crowley explained that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates plans to consult with South Korean counterpart Kim Tae Young early in June, while the presidents of the two countries are also planning to discuss the issue in due course.

However, neither Secretary Clinton nor Crowley would be drawn on what measures the U.S. might settle on, including the possibility of returning North Korea to the U.S.’ list of state sponsors of terrorism, an idea about which some doubts have been voiced in recent days.

“We have a number of terrific lawyers here at the Department and elsewhere in the government that will go through this step by step,” Crowley concluded.

In Beijing, Clinton was equally non-committal, deferring to the legal issues surrounding the designation, “The United States will apply the law as the facts warrant. The legislation, as you know, sets out specific criteria for the Secretary of State to base a determination. And the Department of State continually reviews North Korea’s actions to determine if the evidence supports its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. If the evidence warrants, the Department of State will take action.”

Regardless, Secretary of State Clinton added that she anticipates a constructive role being played by China in any UN Security Council deliberations.

“I can say that the Chinese recognize the gravity of the situation we face,” Clinton asserted, “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.”

In the press briefing, Crowley voiced agreement, pointing out, “I think we are very satisfied with the cooperation that we had within the Security Council, including China that resulted last year in Resolution 1874 that sent a clear signal to North Korea,” he said.

“We would expect that same kind of seriousness of purpose as we work with South Korea and other countries on an international response to the Cheonan sinking. But this is exactly what Secretary Clinton will be talking to Chinese leaders about.”