July 13, 2006

North Korea walks out of talks

By Jack Kim

PUSAN, South Korea (Reuters) - North Korea stormed out of
talks with South Korea on Thursday and Seoul froze food aid to
its impoverished neighbor, as regional fissures over how to
deal with Pyongyang's missile tests widened.

Pyongyang also appeared to have stood up to its closest
ally, Beijing, which has sent a "friendship delegation" to
North Korea.

"So far they don't seem to be interested in listening, much
less doing anything," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State
Christopher Hill told reporters in Beijing. "I think the
Chinese are as baffled as we are."

China and the United States have urged the reclusive
communist state to return to six-party talks with South Korea,
Japan and Russia on winding up its nuclear arms program.

The negotiations stalled last November because Pyongyang
objected to U.S. financial sanctions based on accusations North
Korea counterfeited U.S. currency and trafficked drugs.

Bilateral ministerial talks in the South Korean city of
Pusan broke down in acrimony on Thursday as Pyongyang's
delegation walked out a day before they were due to end.

"The South side will pay a price before the nation for
causing the collapse of the ministerial talks and bringing a
collapse of North-South relations that is unforeseeable now,"
the delegates said in a statement before leaving for the

They accused the South of acting as a "mouthpiece" for
others at the talks, at which they had parried complaints about
last week's missile launches and focused instead on economic
cooperation and requests for aid.

Seoul said it had suspended the dispatch of food aid to the
North until Pyongyang returns to the six-country talks.

Explaining at what point Seoul would consider a resumption
of aid, a South Korean senior government official said: "I
think it is the (North's) return to six-party talks."

Hill said he was confident the United Nations would send a
"very strong, very clear message" to Pyongyang over the barrage
of missiles it test-fired on July 5. But there were still big
differences among regional powers over the appropriate


China and Russia have introduced a U.N. Security Council
resolution that urges North Korea to suspend its nuclear
program but avoids the mandatory weapons-related sanctions
sought by Japan.

Japan said on Thursday it would still seek a Security
Council vote on a resolution that would impose sanctions for
the North Korean missiles, which splashed into the sea off its
west coast.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Japan and the
United States had agreed to give China's diplomatic efforts a
chance, but Tokyo would not wait forever for a Security Council

"We can't be twisted around by any attempts to buy time to
water down the strong resolve of the international community
over the firing of the missiles," he said.

China's Foreign Ministry repeated calls for a diplomatic
solution and urged members of the Security Council to craft a
"cautious and measured response."

Earlier, it criticized Japan for "pouring oil on fire" for
raising the issue of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea after
the tests, warning it could seriously disrupt international
efforts to defuse the crisis.

"This practice is extremely irresponsible and
incomprehensible and it will only seriously disrupt
international diplomatic efforts and accelerate tensions in
Northeast Asia," spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement.

Asked about China-Japan antagonism, Hill said he understood
Japanese concerns about the missile threat. "It's
understandable that there would be discussions in Japan about
their own national capabilities to deal with this type of
threat," he said.

Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think-tank
in Hawaii, said that far from uniting the other five members of
the six-party talks, Pyongyang's missile tests had succeeded in
driving a wedge between them.

"If I had to hand out preliminary awards, I would say the
North Koreans are winning," he said. "I assume that the North
Koreans are sitting back chuckling."

(additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing, George
Nishiyama in Tokyo and Jon Herskovitz in Seoul)