Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Another view of the Chenon sinking in March 2010

At a breakfast meeting at the Ford Foundation, sponsored by Syracuse's Maxwell School and Public Agenda, ambassador Donald Gregg was interviewed by NPR's Robert Siegel.
The format was fairly standard, and the former ambassador to Seoul gave his views on diplomacy, the military, and of his time at the CIA where he was station chief in Vietnam and then Seoul, before becoming national security advisor to vice president George H.W. Bush. Although barely mentioned it was his presidency at the New York Korea Society that pumped new blood and enthusiasm into a 501(c)3 non governmental organisation founded in 1957.
Siegel, in a narrow tour d'horizon of questions, allowed Gregg to expand his views, relate his experience, and talk forthrightly on 'speaking truth to power'.
Although he has written on the sunken ROK corvette 'Chenon', his optic is rarely heard and uniformly ignored in policy circles in the US, among the US North Korean clerisy, and the endless chattering classes in the media.
Essentially, Gregg remains a skeptic. Among the international teams send to South Korea to examine the hulk of the 'Chenon', which the ROK retrieved from the floor of the sea, the Russian experts found a fishing net wrapped around the corvette's propellor. To them, it sent the inquiry into a direction which challenges the final report of experts from, say the US and its allies with one exception Finland who refused to sign the final report blaming North Korea for torpedoing the vessel.
The government of Lee Myung bak was not interested in the Russians' findings, so they packed bags and silently left South Korea. Gregg somehow had read the Russian report and suggested making it public. Russia demurred saying it did not wish to embarrass president Obama and Lee.
The Russia thesis strongly supported the idea that having caught a net in one of its propellers, the 'Chenon' dredged up a dormant but active torpedo lying on the sea's bottom since either WW 2 or the Korean War, thereby accidentally setting it off, and resulting in searing the vessel in two and the loss of 47 crew.
In a related matter the alleged DPRK submarine who got blamed for sinking the 'Chenon' was found to have a mollusk on its hull, indicating a long length of time underwater. However, here's the rub: that mollusk is found in North Korea's eastern waters and not in the waters in which the 'Chenon' split and sank!
China was convinced by the Russian experts' report that he refused to play along with the US in condemning North Korea at the UN.
GuamDiary has blogged much about the sunken 'Chenon', basing its own skepticism on inconsistencies in the US experts report, the timing and response of the South Korean authorities, and the long delay in producing the full findings of the US et al. Such matters increased our doubts and produced more questions which South Korea and the US did not answer adequately.
Additionally, North Korea, denying responsibility in the affair, immediately offered its own dossier which it was more than willing to share with the South, and what's more requested to come to Seoul and investigate the remains of the 'Chenon'.
The Lee government issued a 'non recevoir', sinking an opening to enlarge the enquiry on the 'Chenon'. It steadfastly called for North Korea's admission of guilt and repentance, which the Obama administration backed to the hilt.
Nonetheless doubts remain and the ROK and US report on the 'Chenon' sinking.
Gregg has gotten no thanks for his doubts: he is in bad odour in South Korea and among policy makers in Washington and among the chattering classes and the US North Korea clerisy. Yet, his reputation and stature is such that he cannot be completely marginalised.

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