N Korea abruptly cancels military talks with UN

N Korea`s military abruptly cancels a rare meeting Tuesday with US-led UN Command.

Last Updated: Jul 13, 2010, 09:03 AM IST

Seoul: North Korea`s military abruptly canceled a rare meeting Tuesday with the American-led UN Command that had been arranged to discuss the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang.
Military officers from North Korea and the U.N. Command were to meet at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday morning to discuss sinking that killed 46 South Korean sailors. It would have been the first such meeting since the sinking, which sharply raised tension on the divided Korean peninsula.

The North, however, requested a delay in the talks for "administrative reasons," the U.N. Command said in a statement. A new meeting time was not immediately proposed.

An international investigation in May concluded that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that sank the 1,200-ton Cheonan near the tense Korean sea border in late March. Pyongyang flatly denies it was responsible and has warned any punishment would trigger war.

The U.N. Command, which oversees an armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953, separately investigated if the sinking violated the truce, though findings have not been disclosed.

Late last month, the command proposed military talks with North Korea to review its findings and initiate dialogue.

The North first rejected the offer, criticizing the U.S. for allegedly trying to meddle in inter-Korean affairs under the name of the U.N. But it reversed its position last week and proposed working-level talks at Panmunjom to prepare for higher-level talks by general officers on the sinking.

The North Korean military`s request means it feels it wasn`t sufficiently prepared for the meeting, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul`s University of North Korean studies. "They may have yet to get Kim Jong Il`s approval for their strategy on the talks," he said, referring to the country`s leader.

Yang, who expects a meeting to eventually take place, said it will serve a "symbolic" purpose as a venue where North Korea and the U.S. can engage in dialogue and foster an atmosphere conducive to resuming international disarmament talks on the North`s nuclear program.

North Korea and the U.N. Command launched general-level talks in 1998 as a measure to lessen tension between the sides. If a new round is realized, they would be the 17th of their kind, according to the U.N. command.

The U.S. stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War, which ended in an armistice that has never been replaced with a permanent peace treaty.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday approved a statement that condemned the sinking but stopped short of directly blaming North Korea. The next day, the North said it will make efforts to resume stalled disarmament talks on its nuclear program and conclude a peace treaty that could formally end the Korean War, a sign that the regime could live with the U.N. Security Council`s presidential statement.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Monday that North Korea must stop provocative actions and show a willingness to abide by past disarmament pledges before the U.S. will agree to resume long-stalled six-nation talks meant to rid North Korea of its nuclear programs.

"We are not willing to talk for the sake of talking," Crowley said.

Bureau Report