The U.N. Security Council’s lukewarm condemnation of the attack on the Cheonan may further complicate the inter-Korean dispute, experts said on Friday.
The Council on Friday denounced the act of aggression on the 1,200-ton South Korean patrol ship that went down on March 26, killing 46 of the sailors aboard.
But it stopped short of explicitly naming North Korea as the culprit behind the sinking.
"The Security Council ... calls for appropriate and peaceful measures to be taken against those responsible for the incident," the presidential statement said.
The only mention of a connection to Pyongyang was that the Council "expresses its deep concern" in view of the findings of a recent investigation concluding that the North was culpable for sinking the Cheonan.
Seoul had led the multinational group of investigators who in May concluded that Pyongyang sank the Cheonan with a torpedo attack.
Pyongyang denies any involvement.
The Council acknowledged the North's side of the argument, saying it "takes note of" the responses from relevant parties including Pyongyang.
Many said the results were as expected and possibly the best the Council could muster considering the steady opposition from China, but were still disappointing.
"This complicates, rather than resolves the matter," said professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korea Studies here. “There may be even more debates and conflict between the two Koreas now because the issue has not been settled at the U.N.”
Pyongyang had threatened to open fire on the South should it continue with what it called “fabrications” regarding the Cheonan.
South Korea has been hoping for a resolution, or a president’s statement with teeth, but it got neither, experts said.
“In my view, China’s position has not changed any, and this was plain in the U.N. draft,” said Kevin Shepard, senior fellow on North Korean studies at the Pacific Forum CSIS based in Hawaii.
China, as a traditionally close ally to North Korea with critical geopolitical interests in the Northeast Asian region, has proved to be biggest stumbling block in persuading the U.N. Security Council to effectively criticize the North.
It is now protesting a joint naval drill to be conducted by South Korea and the U.S. later this month as a part of allied strategies to prevent further provocations from Pyongyang.
The strongest remarks in the draft statement released by the Council were that it condemns the attack on the Cheonan, and that such an incident would endanger peace and security in the region and beyond.
The Council also calls for full adherence to the Korean Armistice Agreement.
Seoul had claimed that the attack was an international issue because it violates the cease-fire and the U.N. Charter, thereby threatening regional and international security.
“This was basically nothing but a statement that includes everything that any of the concerned parties have to say,” said prof. Yang.
Professor Yoo Ho-yeol of North Korean studies at Korea University said the Council appeared to be hoping to ease the remarks on the North to prevent further escalation of tension.
“If there had been an outright criticism of the North, then it could have given Pyongyang the necessary ammunition for acting on its threats to initiate a war on the South,” he said. “This way, both parties are let off the hook.”
The Seoul government said it welcomed and was satisifed by the Security Council statement.
The Foreign Ministry also called for the North to abide by the statement and refrain from further provocation on the Korean Peninsula.
"The North should also uphold the spirit of the presidential statement by admitting its wrongs and apologize to take up a responsible role in international society," said Kim Young-sun, the ministry spokesman.
One official noted that it was significant for the 15 members to come together to agree on what to say.
Presidential statements are not legally binding as resolutions are, but carry weight because of their political messages.
Washington, which has so far shown strong support for Seoul’s case on the Cheonan, has yet to decide whether to issue separate sanctions on the North.
More than 50 nations have come forward so far to show support for South Korea in the aftermath of the Cheonan incident.
Relations between the two Koreas worsened significantly after the sinking of the patrol ship.
Seoul, which has imposed economic sanctions of its own on the North, is requesting an apology from Pyongyang, along with promises of preventive measures.
The six-way talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs remain stalled.
Pyongyang remains under heavy sanctions from a previous U.N. Security Council resolution following its second nuclear test in May.
In April that year, the reclusive regime said it would “permanently” quit the six-party talks after the council denounced its rocket launch.
By Kim Ji-hyun (email@example.com)