South and North Korean delegates disagreed yesterday on how to resolve the crisis over the North's suspected development of nuclear weapons.
Their differences centered on Seoul's appeal to hold multilateral talks on the issue, according to South Korean officials who requested anonymity. North Korea has consistantly said it first wants one-on-one talks with the US, the South's chief ally, since the row began.
Washington also wants multilateral talks.
The Cabinet-level negotiators had planned to release a nonbinding joint statement yesterday afternoon, but disagreed on the wording. The two sides had pledged to cooperate in resolving the nuclear crisis, but a solution doesn't appear imminent.
The talks were more likely to make headway on joint economic projects and reunions of families long separated by the North-South border.
The Northern delegation arrived in Seoul on Wednesday, and planned to leave Saturday.
Seoul wants the North to join talks with the US, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia to resolve the nine-month-old nuclear standoff. It says North Korea could win economic aid and security guarantees if it abandons nuclear development.
Washington wants a broad, international front to pressure North Korea, and says other countries should be involved in talks because the nuclear threat is regional, or even global.
"We are making efforts to hold multilateral talks on the nuclear issue within one or two months," Ban Ki-moon, foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, told cable TV news channel YTN.
The US-backed strategy would require the cooperation of China, a major provider of food and fuel for impoverished North Korea. But China has opposed US efforts to persuade the UN Security Council to condemn North Korea's nuclear development, and to demand the program's immediate and permanent destruction.
North Korea has insisted on direct talks with the US, which it views as the primary threat to its existence -- but also as a potential source of economic aid.
Even as diplomacy continues, the crisis is growing. South Korea says the North recently reprocessed a small number of spent nuclear fuel rods to extract weapons-grade plutonium, and tested explosives that can be used to trigger nuclear blasts.
North Korea has claimed that it had all but finished reprocessing its 8,000 spent fuel rods -- which could yield enough plutonium for several atomic bombs, adding to the North's suspected current arsenal of one or two, experts say.