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Korea talks hit stalemate as rivals trade blame

Seoul, February 10, 2011

North and South Korea traded blame on Thursday for the breakdown of military talks as a stalemate emerged over the starting point for negotiations.

North Korea said it would not take part as long as the South did not want to improve ties. South Korea said the North had to acknowledge its role in two attacks last year which killed 50 people.

Analysts said the breakdown on Wednesday was inevitable as both sides came to the negotiating table with different issues, adding the collapse was typical of past sputtering inter-Korean dialogue.

"This could go on for some time, which would be useful if for no other reason that North Korea is unlikely to resort to drastic measures as long as talks are under way or are likely," said Ken Boutin, a North Korea expert at Australia's Deakin University.

The US, which has nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, said it hoped the rivals could work out their differences and resume talks as soon as possible to reduce tensions on the divided peninsula.

The preliminary talks, the first inter-Korean meeting since the North's attack on the southern island of Yeonpyeong in November, broke down over procedural issues, including the agenda and the rank of participants at their next meeting.

Both sides accused the other of walking out of the talks.

"In a situation where (they) do not wish for improvement of North-South relations and are refusing dialogue itself, our military and people no longer feel the need to be associated with the South," a communique from the delegates carried by the KCNA state news agency said.

Seoul said its offer for senior-level military talks still stood, but on the condition the North "takes responsible steps" for the two attacks.

South Korea said the North's delegates stood by their stance that Pyongyang had nothing to do with the sinking of the South's Cheonan warship in March and that it shelled the island of Yeonpyeong in November out of self-defence.

The North insisted that discussions about the attacks should only be taken up at the senior level, KCNA said.

The process will now return to the drawing board, with both sides likely to exchange statements before any resumption of talks. The process could take weeks, even months, analysts say.

A North Korean state website however maintained that dialogue was the best way to end the standoff.

"There's no doubt we can make good achievement on pending issues between the North and South if we discuss them through dialogue between authorities from the two sides," the website www.uriminzokkiri.com, operated by the government propaganda agency, said in an item posted on Thursday.

Whither six-party talks?

Tensions have eased on the peninsula since the start of the year, with both sides calling for dialogue, raising hopes the neighbours can rebuild relations shattered over the past two years by the deadly attacks and failed nuclear talks.

There had been hopes the bilateral talks might set in a motion a return to broader aid-for-disarmament negotiations.

Beijing and Washington had set inter-Korean dialogue as a prerequisite to restart six-party talks which offer the North aid and diplomatic recognition in return for disabling its nuclear arms programme. Tokyo and Moscow are the other six-party members.

The North and its ally China want to restart the six-way negotiations, but Seoul and Washington have questioned the North's sincerity about denuclearising -- pointing to its revelations last year about a uranium-enrichment programme.

Pyongyang says its uranium-enriching facility is for peaceful energy-producing, but regional powers, including China, have expressed concerns about the programme which opens a second route to make a nuclear bomb after its plutonium programme.

Washington and Seoul want UN Security Council action against the North for breaching past agreements, while Beijing wants the matter to be dealt with by the six-party forum.

The secretive North quit the six-way talks in 2009, declaring the process dead, in protest against UN sanctions for conducting nuclear and missile tests. – Reuters




Tags: Korea | Talks | Seoul | Yeonpyeong |

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