U.N. council split on N.Korea statement -diplomats

UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – The U.N. Security  Council met in emergency session yesterday to try to cool  tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but the five big powers were  split on whether to publicly blame North Korea for the crisis.

Pyongyang raised an alert for artillery units along its  west coast in what appeared to be its latest move in a growing  crisis between the two Koreas, Yonhap news agency said, quoting  a South Korean government source. The report was issued ahead  of a planned live-fire drill by South Korea.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry offered no immediate comment  on the Yonhap report. Bad weather has so far delayed the  planned firing drill at a disputed border that has enraged  Pyongyang.

Both sides have said they will use military means to defend  what they say is their territory off the west coast, raising  international concern that the standoff could quickly spiral  out of control.

The 15 Security Council members were meeting behind closed  doors to try to agree on a statement that Russian U.N.  Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he hoped would send a  “restraining signal” to both the North and the South.

Western envoys inside the meeting said the five permanent  veto-wielding members were split over whether to blame North  Korea for the crisis, as the United States, Britain, and France  — along with Japan — demand, or to urge both sides to avoid  acts that could deepen the crisis, as Russia and China want.

The Chinese, North Korea’s staunchest supporters on the  council, and Russians reject the idea of assigning blame to  Pyongyang, the envoys told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“The council needs to send a signal that clearly  communicates that North Korea has been acting as the aggressor  and South Korea is well within its rights to prepare for its  self-defense,” a Western diplomat said.

Diplomats told Reuters that a Russian draft statement calls  for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send a special envoy  to Seoul and Pyongyang to urge a peaceful solution, and calls  on the two sides to exercise “maximum restraint.”

The diplomats said the Russian draft was unacceptable to  Washington, London, Paris and Tokyo. A British draft statement,  obtained by Reuters, has the council saying it “deplores” North  Korea’s latest actions and urging Pyongyang to “act with  restraint,” but Russia and China have rejected that draft.

Washington has backed Seoul’s push to go ahead with the  planned live-fire drill on Yeonpyeong island, where four South  Koreans were killed in an artillery attack last month.

The drill, within view of the North Korean mainland, is  scheduled to take place sometime before Tuesday. U.S. and  Chinese officials have described the situation on the Korean  Peninsula as “extremely precarious” and a “tinderbox”. Recent Western attempts to get the Security Council to  rebuke Pyongyang over a deadly artillery shelling incident last  month and its nuclear program have been blocked by China.

The U.N. Secretariat distributed to council members a  document on an investigation of the Nov. 23 shelling incident  by the so-called U.N. Command, the U.S.-led military forces in  South Korea that monitor compliance with the 1953 Armistice  Agreement that ended the Korean War.

That probe concluded the South did not violate the  armistice with its Nov. 23 military drills in disputed waters,  while the North committed a “deliberate and premeditated  attack” that was a “serious violation” of the cease-fire,  according to the document, which was obtained by Reuters.

North Korea has called the artillery fire drill by the  South a suicidal war move that would trigger all-out conflict  on the peninsula and said it would strike back in  self-defense.

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