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Clinton briefs China on S Korean warship sinking

world Updated: May 24, 2010 07:21 IST

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has briefed her Chinese counterpart Dai Bingguo on the inquiry into the sinking of a South Korean warship, a senior US official said on Sunday.

"We've shared with them some specific information" during a dinner ahead of US-China dialogue due to start in Beijing on Monday, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Clinton also told Dai the substance of a statement due to be made on Monday evening by South Korean leader Lee Myung-Bak, and said Washington would back all measures announced.

The US has strongly condemned Pyongyang for its "provocative behaviour" in the sinking of the South Korean corvette the Cheonan in March.

On Thursday, a multinational panel released its findings in the incident, concluding that a North Korean submarine torpedoed the ship, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

Several world powers have condemned the regime of Kim Jong-Il but China -- Pyongyang's sole major ally -- called for restraint and said it would make its own assessment of the investigators' report.

"The Chinese are still digesting the implications" of the inquiry, said the official, adding that Washington expected Beijing "to take some steps in the international arena to underscore the seriousness of the matter."

South Korea wants to take the affair to the UN Security Council and the support of Beijing, one of five veto-wielding members, is seen as key for any international action targeting the North.

Pyongyang quickly rejected the investigators' findings and launched threats of war if the international community punishes it.

"In a situation like this it's not unusual for China to move extraordinarily carefully, said the diplomat. "It's incumbent on us to try to carefully work with them."

He said China had made clear "that they are prepared to look seriously at the evidence and to give it due consideration."
Clinton and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will lead the US delegation in two days of talks on Monday and Tuesday with China, on everything from trade disputes to the value of the yuan to the international standoff on Iran.

The sinking of the Cheonan -- and a possible international response -- is now expected to move high up the agenda of the talks, also to be attended by US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and other top-level officials.

Clinton will wrap up her Asia tour on Wednesday in South Korea, where she could offer her "responses" to North Korea on the Cheonan affair, US officials say.