North Korea, South Korea Talks TenseJOHN LEICESTER , Associated Press
Jun. 22, 1999 11:47 PM ET
BEIJING (AP) _ North Korea accused South Korea of deliberately pushing their rivalry ``to the brink of war,'' marring the highest level talks between the two governments in 14 months Tuesday.
After just 90 minutes of talks, the North Korean delegation said it would not meet again with South Korean officials until Seoul was ready to apologize for a naval clash last week in disputed waters of the Yellow Sea.
The meeting, taking place on the neutral ground of Beijing, was scheduled to deal with reuniting families separated by the Korean War and aid for the famine-threatened North.
But after a friendly greeting to his South Korean counterpart in front of reporters, the North's negotiator, Pak Yong Su, accused Seoul of engineering the Yellow Sea clash.
``As a result, the situation on the peninsula is driven to the brink of war,'' Pak said, according to North Korean state media. ``Desirable results'' cannot be expected from the talks, Pak said.
Seoul's chief delegate, Yang Young-shik, blamed North Korea for the shootout, saying its ships violated South Korean waters. Seoul will defend itself if North Korea ``perpetrates similar provocations again,'' Yang said.
On Wednesday, officials tried to arrange another meeting by telephone, said Wi Keyei-chul, spokesman for the South Korean Embassy in Beijing. But the meeting remained on hold.
Meanwhile, in the demilitarized zone that separates the Koreas, generals from the American-led U.N. Command and North Korea ended a meeting Tuesday without agreement on ways of avoiding further armed clashes.
Command officials said the two-hour meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom focused on the recent gun battle off the peninsula's central west coast. But the talks made little headway as North Korea renewed its claim to the disputed waters.
A North Korean gunboat was sunk and several others heavily damaged in the June 15 shootout. About 30 North Korean sailors were believed to have died.
As the negotiations faltered, the United States' top official on North Korea, Charles Kartman, arrived in Beijing for talks with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan.
Kartman and Kim will meet Wednesday and Thursday to discuss an inspection by U.S. experts of a suspected North Korean underground nuclear facility last month, upcoming peace talks with South Korea and China, and the Yellow Sea dispute.
The meetings in the Chinese capital underscored new diplomatic maneuvering by the North's reclusive communist government. In the past month, Pyongyang has reached out to the United States and South Korea and shored up relations with traditional communist ally, China.
North Korea, in its fourth year of widespread food shortages, needs aid to repair its ruined economy. Meanwhile, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung needs tangible evidence that his more open policy toward Pyongyang is working _ especially after the naval clash and North Korea's apparent detention of a South Korean tourist.
Under an agreement reached in secret negotiations early this month, North Korea agreed to discuss family reunions in return for a South Korean pledge to supply 200,000 tons of fertilizer need to help revive its flagging agriculture.
The talks were scheduled to start Monday but were delayed after North Korea said that a 22,000-ton shipment _ the last of 100,000 tons of fertilizer promised by June 20 _ was late. The fertilizer arrived overnight in the North Korean port of Nampo, clearing the way for the talks to open Tuesday.
An estimated 10 million people were separated from their families by the partition of the Korean peninsula in 1945 and the Korean War in 1950-53. The divided countries face each other across a heavily armed buffer zone _ one of the last Cold War flashpoints.