POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 10, 2011
SEOUL >> North Korea refused Thursday to hold any more military talks with South Korea, saying Seoul lacks serious intent to improve relations marked by months of high tensions.
Pyongyang put forth its tough stance a day after acrimony abruptly ended the Koreas’ first official talks since the North attacked a South Korean front-line island with artillery in November and killed four people.
This week’s talks at the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone had raised hopes of improved inter-Korean ties after the island attack and the March 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.
The two events had raised fears of all-out war between the Koreas, still technically in a state of war since a truce, not a peace treaty, ended the three-year Korean War in 1953.
The military meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday were aimed at laying the groundwork for higher-level defense talks, but North Korea’s military said Thursday that South Korea was sticking to “unreasonable” demands that Pyongyang must first take “sincere, responsible measures” in response to the island attack and the ship sinking.
“They thus revealed their sinister intention to use the North-South high-level military talks as another theater of inter-Korean confrontation,” said the North Korean military statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
“The army and people of (North Korea) do not feel any need to deal with the group of traitors any longer now that they do not wish to see the North-South relations improved but totally reject the dialogue itself,” it said.
North Korea denies it caused the ship sinking and says its artillery firing was provoked by the South Korean military, which was conducting a live-fire drill nearby.
The North’s statement is largely seen as a bluff, but Pyongyang may commit some provocative acts like missile tests and artillery drills to pressure South Korea, one analyst said.
South Korea said the North walked out of this week’s military talks shortly after the Wednesday afternoon session began and that the two countries differed over what to discuss at higher-level defense talks.
South Korea demanded the high-level talks focus on the two attacks, while the North insisted other broader military issues also be included, a South Korean statement said late Wednesday.
“We cannot just put aside (the two attacks) because of our people’s pains over them,” Col. Moon Sang-kyun, the chief South Korean delegate, told South Korean reporters Thursday, according to the Defense Ministry.
The North Korean statement was a bluff to keep up pressure on the South to accept its demand for procedural measures for high-level defense talks, said Jeung Young-tae, an analyst with the government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
Jeung said the North will eventually return to talks before long but may try to demonstrate its military strength until then through short-range missile tests or artillery firing drills near the disputed western sea border — scene of both last year’s two attacks.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it was a “missed opportunity” for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity to engage in dialogue and reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula.
He told a news conference the North needed to take “meaningful steps” to improve inter-Korean relations — including taking responsibility for the island shelling and warship sinking.
Improving relations between the Koreas and hopefully, in turn, bringing North Korea back into the fold of the international community is important because of concerns about the North’s expanded nuclear capability. South Korea says the North’s newly disclosed uranium enrichment program violates disarmament pacts and U.N. resolutions.
On Thursday, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac traveled to China — the North’s main ally — for a two-day visit aimed at discussing Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report from Washington.