N Korea to hold talks with UN Command on sinking

N Korea`s military is scheduled to hold talks Thursday with US-led UN Command.

Seoul: North Korea`s military is scheduled to hold talks Thursday with the US-led United Nations Command, the first since the sinking of a South Korean warship sent regional tensions soaring.
South Korea, the United States and other nations accuse the communist state of torpedoing the Cheonan corvette in March and killing 46 sailors, an accusation it vehemently denies.

The meeting was originally set for Tuesday but the North sought a postponement for "administrative reasons".

The talks will now be held at 10:00 am (0100 GMT) Thursday at the border village of Panmunjom, according to a statement Wednesday from the UN Command which monitors the Korean War armistice.

The talks between colonels are intended to make arrangements for a later meeting at general-level. The North previously refused to hold discussions with the US-led command over the sinking, calling for talks only with South Korea, but it shifted its stance last Friday.

Hours after that development, the UN Security Council issued a statement which condemned the attack but did not apportion blame -- a result hailed by the North as a "great diplomatic victory".

The statement was watered down under pressure from Pyongyang`s ally China.

The North`s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said the UN move marked the failure of a "despicable conspiratorial diplomacy" by the US, South Korea and Japan to push the situation to the brink of war.

"The hectic diplomacy of those despicable tricksters to do harm to the (North) ended in failure, bringing only shame and disgrace, in the final analysis," it said. In the wake of the UN statement, the North reiterated conditional willingness to return to stalled six-party nuclear disarmament negotiations.

But it threatened "strong physical retaliation" if South Korea and the United States persist in "demonstration of forces and sanctions". The two allies plan a naval exercise as a show of strength. They are still deciding where to hold the drill, originally planned for the Yellow Sea, following strong protests from China about any war games close to its waters.

Some analysts believe the North`s navy sank the corvette in revenge for damage it suffered in a firefight last November near the disputed sea border.

Analysts at a Seoul seminar did not specify who was to blame for the sinking, but said the North may become more belligerent as it prepares for a power transfer from leader Kim Jong-Il to his youngest son Jong-Un.

David Kang, professor at the University of Southern California, said the new leadership could mean a "more belligerent North Korea that is less willing to negotiate with the outside". This is because "the young dictator" needs to prove to his own military and regime that he is strong enough to lead the country, Kang said in a paper introduced at the seminar.

Chances of a smooth succession may not be high, Kang said, since the son unlike his father would have almost no time to build support and legitimacy. Brendan Howe of Seoul`s Ewha Womans University said the North`s belligerence could well be a "smokescreen" to distract from internal succession problems.

"In other words, the overly agressive nature of Pyongyang`s actions and statements comes not from strength based on new capabilities but rather from weakness generated by internal crisis," Howe said.

Bureau Report

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