A European Union delegation has crossed into South Korea after a four-day visit to the communist North. The visitors found no progress towards a resolution of the crisis over the North's nuclear weapons program. It was the first time in seven months that North Korea has allowed Western diplomats to cross to the South overland. The news the European Union team brought from Pyongyang, however, was not encouraging.
EU External Relations Director Percy Westerlund said North Korea views its nuclear weapons option as indispensable for its national security. Mr. Westerlund said he did not expect Pyongyang to dismantle the program - as Washington and its allies have demanded - until it has the security assurances it requires.
After four days in the North, the Europeans exited through the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas. They stepped over a concrete curb marking the border, and then headed for Seoul, for a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan.
Following that meeting, members of the delegation told reporters they had urged North Korea to resolve the nuclear crisis, but they saw no indication that Pyongyang is ready for a quick compromise on its demands.
In Seoul and Tokyo, government leaders said it is becoming increasingly unlikely that a second round of six-party talks on the crisis would be held before the end of the year. The first round, involving both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, ended inconclusively in Beijing in August.
Intense diplomatic shuttling by various governments has been under way in recent weeks to prepare for a second round of talks. South Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck left Friday for Beijing to hear the latest from the Chinese on North Korea's position.
But media reports in Japan and South Korea indicate that differences between Washington and Pyongyang are delaying the setting of a new date. The United States last week rejected a proposal from North Korea for "simultaneous" measures, whereby Pyongyang would agree to dismantle its nuclear weapons in return for aid and other benefits.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula escalated 14 months ago when the United States said Pyongyang had admitted having a program to enrich uranium, in violation of international agreements.
In January, North Korea quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It later said it had completed reprocessing enough spent nuclear fuel rods to yield enough plutonium for several nuclear bombs.