BEIJING - For seven months North Korea has furiously denied responsibility for the sinking of a South Korean naval ship off the Korean Peninsula and mocked a joint multinational report that blamed them for the attack.
But during a rare press conference at the sprawling North Korean Embassy in Beijing on Friday, North Korea finally offered its official rebuttal.
The “Cheonan,” a 1,200 ton South Korean ship carrying 104 people, was allegedly torpedoed by a North Korean submarine on March 27 and sank killing 46 sailors.
The title of North Korea’s 22-page report on the incident is a blunt sum-up on their take on the torpedo allegation: “Cheonan Incident Fabricated by the U.S. and Lee Myung Bak Group of Traitors Was Most Hideous Conspiratorial Farce in the Nation’s History.”
North Korea’s Senior Counselor Jong Hyun-U gave a 13-point argument he hoped would “scientifically and in more detail” challenge the facts released by a joint investigative team composed of naval officers from Canada, Britain, Sweden Australia, South Korea and the United States.
However, the press conference verged on the surreal as the report got bogged down with pervasive insults towards both South Korea and the United States.
Jong breathlessly, but methodically, ran down the list of alleged errors in the joint U.S. - South Korea report. References to “U.S. imperialists,” South Korean “stooges” and the “tricksters” and “traitors” in South Korea President Lee Myung-bak’s government were often made with clear disdain.
Physical evidence disputed
In North Korea’s effort to take a “scientific” approach to their investigation, physical evidence was the central focus of the report. Chief among their complaints were aluminum alloy fragments recovered from the scene that the joint investigative team declared were material evidence proving the torpedo was of North Korean origin.
But the North Korea report responded by noting that North Korean torpedoes, known as Juche-based torpedoes, are made of a steel alloy rather than aluminum. The North also claimed that they offered samples of their steel alloys to the investigation team, but were turned down
Alleged discrepancies in the detection of gunpowder and other explosive residues on the hull of the Cheonan were also central to the North Korean case. The North Korean report also claimed that the propelling body of the torpedo – found by a civilian fishing boat nearly 50 days after the incident – had a streamlined shape which did not match the rectangular design of the Juche-based torpedo.
The report also called into question several eyewitness accounts by people who allegedly waffled on their initial claims that they saw a column of water suggesting a torpedo struck the Cheonan.
In dismissing the physical, chemical evidence and eyewitness accounts provided in the joint report, North Korea ultimately determined that the Cheonan got stranded in the rocky waters between Paengnyong Islet and Taechong Islet.
Ironically, “The Hermit Kingdom” at times found itself reaching out to foreign nations to corroborate its findings. The report cited the results of the Russian investigation group, which stated that “it could find no ground to judge that it [the Cheonan sinking] was caused by the torpedo attack by the North,” and the Swedish contingent which officially withheld its name from the U.S. - South Korea report.
How the United States will respond to the report remains to be seen, but it is clear that the combination of the joint report and war games earlier this year off the Korean peninsula have brought reengagement through the so-called Six Party Talks to a standstill.
Responding to a question on whether North Korea would reenter talks, Jong bluntly responded, "the DPRK's participation will depend on a new attitude from the United States."