Thu, Feb 10, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Talks ‘collapse’ in setback for nuclear dialogue

Reuters, SEOUL

Military talks between South Korea and North Korea have “collapsed,” a Unification Ministry official in Seoul said yesterday, dealing a setback to efforts to restart international aid-for-disarmament talks.

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

Colonels from the two Koreas talked for two days, but failed to get past the first hurdle of the preliminary meeting — setting the agenda for senior discussions.

“The talks have collapsed; they haven’t even agreed on a date for their next meeting,” the official said, referring to the first meeting since the North’s attack on the southern island of Yeonpyeong in November, which killed four people and raised the threat of possible all-out war.

The South’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the North’s representatives had “unilaterally walked out of the meeting room.”

Seoul said the offer for senior-level military talks still stood, but on the condition the North “takes responsible steps regarding” last year’s attacks, a ministry official said.

The talks also became bogged down over the procedural issue of what rank any senior talks would take, with the South demanding either a ministerial or four-star general confab, while North insisted on vice-ministerial dialogue.

While the failed talks underline the deep divisions and distrust between the rivals, analysts said they were hardly surprised and that any talks would follow a stop-start pattern.

“I thought it would take some time due to a gap in views of the both,” said Park Syung-je, an expert at the Asia Strategy Institute. “Next time ahead of talks, South Korea should check if North Korea truly wants them.”

Tensions rose last year when 46 South Korean sailors were killed in an attack on a naval vessel. North Korea, which denies responsibility, also revealed advances in its nuclear program in November.

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 program. Tokyo and Moscow are the other six-party members.

The North has said it wants to return to the broader negotiations, but Seoul and Washington have questioned its sincerity about denuclearizing — pointing to its revelations about a uranium-enrichment program.

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