US to conduct naval exercises with S Korea after attack

A giant offshore crane salvages the bow section of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan off Baengnyeong Island, South Korea, file picture from 24 April 2010 South Korea's president has vowed to punish those who carried out the attack

The US has confirmed it will hold naval exercises with South Korea, after a report blamed the North for the sinking of a Southern warship, officials say.

The Pentagon said the joint anti-submarine and other military exercises would start "in the near future".

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak earlier froze trade with Pyongyang, vowing to punish those who carried out the attack.

North Korea has said it will retaliate for any action taken against it.

The country's main newspaper called the investigation an "intolerable, grave provocation".

'Unequivocal support'

South Korea has said it will refer the North to the UN Security Council in response to the sinking of the Cheonan - and the resulting death of 46 sailors - in March.

In a move endorsed by the US, President Lee said in a televised address that Seoul would no longer tolerate "any provocative act by the North and will maintain a principle of proactive deterrence".

ANALYSIS

The BBC's Jonathan Marcus

The problem is that South Korean economic measures, US condemnation and even possible action at the UN are unlikely to change the mindset in Pyongyang.

China is the only country with any real leverage over North Korea.

Behind the scenes Beijing is going to be the crucial player if tensions are not to spill out of control.

The weeks ahead are punctuated with opportunities for further tensions - not least a joint US-South Korean anti-submarine exercise.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the decision to start joint naval exercises was "a result of the findings of this recent incident".

Analysts describe the joint exercises as a statement of US commitment to help Seoul rather than an attempt to intimidate Pyongyang.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier that her country was working hard to avoid an escalation.

After talks in China, she urged countries in the region to contain "the highly precarious situation created by North Korea".

China - North Korea's closest trading partner and a permanent member of the Security Council - has urged "restraint".

Japan said it was contemplating its own sanctions on Pyongyang.

The North depends on South Korea and China for up to 80% of its trade and 35% of its GDP.

In 2009, inter-Korean trade stood at $1.68bn (£1.11bn) - 13% of the North's GDP.

The measures announced by South Korea included:

  • Stopping inter-Korean trade
  • Banning North Korean ships from using South Korean waterways or shortcuts
  • Resuming "psychological warfare"
  • Referring the case to the UN Security Council

The BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul says the measures are as tough a response as the South could take short of military action.

ATTACKS BLAMED ON NORTH

  • Jan 1967 - South Korean warship attacked near border, 39 sailors killed
  • Jan 1968 - presidential palace in Seoul stormed, 71 killed
  • Oct 1983 - Rangoon hotel used by South Korean president bombed, 21 killed
  • Nov 1987 - South Korean airliner bombed, 115 killed
  • Mar 2010 - Cheonan warship attacked, 46 sailors killed

The measures came less than a week after experts from the US, the UK, Australia and Sweden said in a report that a torpedo had hit the Cheonan.

They reported that parts of the torpedo retrieved from the sea floor had lettering that matched a North Korean design.

Pyongyang denies any involvement in the sinking, calling the investigation a "fabrication" and threatening war if sanctions were imposed.

"If [South Korea] sets up new tools for psychological warfare such as loudspeakers and leaves slogans for psychological warfare intact, ignoring our demands, we will directly aim and open fire to destroy them," a statement by the military said on Monday.

"More powerful physical strikes will be taken to eradicate the root of provocation if [South Korea] challenges to our fair response," said a commander, according to official news agency KCNA.

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