Seoul: The Koreas` first high-level talks in years have been scrapped because of a stalemate over who will lead each delegation, South Korea said on Tuesday, a day before they were to begin.
The cancellation is a blow to tentative hopes that the rivals were about to improve ties following years of rising hostility.
North Korea said it wasn`t sending its officials to Seoul for the two-day meeting because the South had changed the head of its delegation, Kim Hyung-suk, a spokesman for Seoul`s Unification Ministry, told reporters in a briefing. The ministry is in-charge of North Korea matters.
There had been hope that the talks on reviving two high-profile economic cooperation projects would allow the countries to move past a relationship marred by recent North Korean threats of nuclear war and South Korean vows of counterstrikes.
But the collapse over what`s essentially a protocol matter is testament to the difficulty the countries have in finding common ground.
South Korea had originally wanted a minister-level meeting between the top officials for each country`s inter-Korean affairs agency, but Pyongyang wouldn`t commit to that. The last minister-level meeting between the Koreas occurred in December 2007.
When Seoul told Pyongyang today that it was sending a lower-level official than it had initially proposed in preparatory talks, North Korea said it would consider that a "provocation", Kim said.
The cancellation of talks arises partly from misunderstandings that the sides have about who is equivalent to whom in power between their largely different political systems, Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea scholar at Seoul`s Dongguk University, said.
"The two sides are offended by each other now. The relations may again undergo a cooling-off period before negotiations for further talks resume," he said.
North Korea did not immediately issue its own statement about the cancelled talks.
The talks were set up in a painstaking 17-hour negotiating session on Sunday, but the rivals had set aside the question of who would lead each delegation. Kim said that today, North Korea offered to send a senior official of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea as chief delegate, and Seoul said it would send its vice unification minister as chief delegate.
South Korea had previously proposed sending its unification minister. After it announced the vice minister would go instead, North Korea said it wouldn`t send anyone and that "all responsibility is entirely on South Korea," Kim said. He added that Seoul is still open to talks if North Korea reconsiders.