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U.S. Backs South Korea’s Trade Cuts With North

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Obama administration said it fully supports South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's decision to block trade with North Korea in response to the March 26 sinking of South Korean naval ship Cheonan by a North Korean torpedo, for which the country has denied responsibility. The White House called Lee's reaction to the incident "entirely appropriate."

"We are working hard to avoid an escalation of belligerence and provocation," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday. "This is a highly precarious situation that the North Koreans have caused in the region."

On March 26, a South Korean naval ship broke in two and sank, killing 46 crewmembers. North Korea denied any involvement in the incident, but an international commission said May 20 that a North Korean torpedo caused the boat to sink.

The commission matched torpedo fragments pulled up from the ocean at the site of the sinking to North Korean torpedos. The torpedo was launched from a North Korean sub across the ocean border between the two countries.

In a speech Sunday, Lee demanded an immediate apology from North Korea and asked the government to come forward with facts about the incident. Lee announced that South Korea would cut off nearly all trade with North Korea and ban North Korean ships from South Korean sea lanes. Lee also said he would bring the issue before the U.N. Security Council.

The White House issued a statement early Monday expressing firm support for Lee's move, saying, "The measures that the government of the Republic of Korea announced today are called for and entirely appropriate."

Administration officials said the country can count on the United States' full support to pressure North Korea to "stop its belligerent and threatening behavior" against South Korea.

Speaking at economic and security talks in Beijing Sunday, Clinton said, "We asked North Korea to stop its provocative behavior, halt its policy of threats and belligerence towards its neighbors, and take irreversible steps to fulfill its denuclearization commitments, and comply with international law."

Clinton is meeting with Japan and China on the issue. She reported that she had "intensive" discussions with China in two two-and-a-half hour discussions Sunday.

"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," Clinton said.

Obama instructed U.S. military heads to coordinate with South Korean military leaders to "ensure readiness and to deter future aggression."

Obama also called for U.S. government agencies to review their policies with North Korea to ensure they are "adequate."

The Cheonan incident may prompt the State Department to relist North Korea on the State Department's state-sponsor of terrorism list. Clinton said the agency is continually reviewing North Korea's action to see if it fits the listing criteria.

"If the evidence warrants, the Department of State will take action," Clinton told reporters Monday.

Clinton will travel to Seoul Wednesday to meet with Lee. Obama and Lee are scheduled to meet at the G-20 Summit in Canada in June.

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