Thursday, February 10, 2011
Image via WikipediaKorean Talks End Abruptly as the North Walks Out - NYTimes.com
By MARK McDONALD
SEOUL, South Korea — Military discussions between North and South Korea ended suddenly on Wednesday with no improvement in the countries’ badly strained relations and no agreement about whether to hold more substantive talks in the future.
The failure of the talks is likely to create more uncertainty about the resumption of the six-nation talks dealing with the North’s nuclear programs.
North Korea, China and Russia have pressed for a prompt resumption of that process, which broke down in April 2009 when North Korea withdrew from the talks and expelled United Nations nuclear inspectors.
South Korea, the United States and Japan — alarmed at the North’s revelations about its expanded uranium enrichment program — have rejected the idea of new six-nation talks until substantive inter-Korean discussions are held.
A Defense Ministry official in Seoul said the talks on Wednesday ended abruptly at 2:30 p.m. when the North Korean delegation “unilaterally walked away from the table and out of the meeting room.”
Another military official said the North Korean delegation had repeatedly refused to apologize for an artillery barrage against a South Korean island in November and a torpedo attack in March that sank a South Korean warship and killed 46 sailors. The North has said that the artillery exchange was provoked by the South and that it was not involved in the sinking of the ship.
The talks were the first inter-Korean dialogue since the shelling of the island. Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed in the attack, and substantial public anger in the South has served to reinforce President Lee Myung-bak’s hard-line policy toward the North.
The aim of the talks, which were described by government officials as low-level and preliminary, was to make arrangements for substantive high-level military discussions. But the two sides “failed to narrow the differences over the agenda for a high-level meeting,” said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry.
The two delegations, led by army colonels, began their meeting on Tuesday at the border village of Panmunjom. When the meeting ran long on Tuesday, the North asked for another session on Wednesday.
The failure to reach an agreement on future talks also scuttled the immediate prospects for cross-border reunions between family members separated by the Korean War.
Responding to a request by the North about a new round of reunions, an official with the Unification Ministry in Seoul said Wednesday that talks about family gatherings would be held only after “high-level military talks are conducted.”
Tens of thousands of Koreans have signed up for a chance to be reunited with relatives. The last round of reunions was held in November.