Published: May 21, 2010 10:20 AM EDT
Updated: May 21, 2010 10:16 AM EDT

TOKYO (AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said

Friday that evidence was "overwhelming" that a North Korean

submarine sank a South Korean warship and that the communist

country must face international consequences for its actions.

Speaking in the Japanese capital at the outset of a three-nation

Asian trip, Clinton said the U.S., Japan, South Korea and China are

consulting on an appropriate reaction to an international

investigation that blamed North Korea for the incident.

She said the report proves a North Korean sub fired a torpedo

that sank the ship, the Cheonan, in March and that it could no

longer be "business as usual" in dealing with the matter.

While it was "premature" to discuss exact options or actions

that will be taken in response, Clinton said it was "important to

send a clear message to North Korea that provocative actions have

consequences."

"The evidence is overwhelming and condemning. The torpedo that

sunk the Cheonan ... was fired by a North Korean submarine," she

told reporters at a joint press conference with Japanese Foreign

Minister Katsuya Okada.

"We cannot allow this attack on South Korea to go unanswered by

the international community," she said. "This will not be and

cannot be business as usual. There must be an international, not

just a regional, but an international response."

North Korea denies it was responsible for the sinking and has

threatened to retaliate against any attempt to punish it with

"all-out war."

Clinton's Asian tour, which will also take her to China and

South Korea, was supposed to focus on U.S.-China economic issues.

But that was before she left Washington and Thursday's release of

the report that concluded that a North Korean sub had torpedoed a

South Korean corvette on March 26, splitting the vessel in two and

killing 46 sailors.

Input from the three countries will be key to determining an

appropriate response, especially with fears that too tough a

reaction could provoke new hostilities or spark chaos in the

region. The Obama administration has said it wants South Korea to

lead the way in coming up with possible responses.

Underscoring the concern, U.S. officials have refused to call

the North's attack on the ship an act of war or state-sponsored

terror, warning that an overreaction could cause the Korean

peninsula to "explode."

U.S. officials said they would explore diplomatic steps through

the U.N. or increase Washington's unilateral sanctions against

North Korea's Soviet-style state.

At an emergency national security meeting Friday in Seoul, South

Korean President Lee Myung-bak said his country was caught in a

"perfect military ambush" but called for a cautious response to

the sinking. Lee said the attack violated the U.N. Charter as well

as the truce that ended the fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Clinton's main task during her time in Beijing may be trying to

persuade the Chinese to support U.N. Security Council action

against North Korea. The Chinese have the most leverage over the

reclusive regime, and Beijing's support for any international

response to Pyongyang will be critical to its success.

Chinese officials have appealed for calm. Vice Foreign Minister

Cui Tiankai called the sinking "unfortunate." But he stopped

short of backing Seoul in the growing dispute, instead reiterating

China's long-standing views on the need to maintain peace on the

peninsula.

Clinton said Tokyo and Washington were seeking to resolve a

dispute over the relocation of a key Marine base on the southern

island of Okinawa by the end-of-May deadline that Japan's prime

minister has set.

The Tokyo government has said it would like to move Futenma

Marine air field off the island, which already hosts more than half

the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan, but hasn't found a

suitable alternative.

"We both seek an arrangement that is operationally viable and

politically sustainable. The goal of our governments remains

unchanged. We want to maintain the security of Japan and the

stability of the region," Clinton said.

"We have committed to redoubling our efforts to meet the

deadline that has been announced by the Japanese government."

Okada, the foreign minister, said the two sides were working

together and that Tokyo would "make the utmost efforts to gain the

understanding of the Okinawan people."

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