U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday evidence was "overwhelming" that North Korea 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 sank the Cheonan ... was fired by a North Korean submarine," she told reporters at a joint news 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, response."
North Korea denies it was responsible for the March 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 is being overshadowed by the sunken ship crisis.
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."