South Korea has taken its firmest stand to date on the issue of North Korea's weapons systems. Following the collapse of inter-Korean talks, a senior South Korean official says food aid to the impoverished North will stop until Pyongyang returns to talks on its nuclear weapons programs. The move comes as North Korea digs in its diplomatic heels over the missiles it test-fired last week.
South Korea made clear Thursday that no more food aid would be heading north unless Pyongyang returned to six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs.
A senior South Korean official relayed Seoul's position to reporters after the collapse of inter-Korean talks in the South Korean city of Busan.
The South Koreans have used this week's inter-Korean talks to express concern over the North's test-firing of at least seven missiles on July 5, in defiance of warnings from Seoul and the international community.
As the talks ended a day early Thursday, the South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman, Lee Kwan-se, told reporters that Seoul had warned the North against making the same mistake again.
He says Seoul warned the North Korean delegates if there were any more missile launches, the situation on the Korean peninsula would be severely worsened.
Lee says the North Koreans dismissed the criticism, and instead requested half a million tons of rice from the South to ease its chronic food shortages - a request Seoul now says it flatly turned down. The South has given billions of dollars worth of food, fertilizer and other aid to the North over the past six years.
As the North Koreans prepared to return home, they issued a statement blaming South Korea for the talks' failure. The statement accused the South of coming to the talks with "impure motives," and warned Seoul it would "pay a price" for causing what the Northerners called a "collapse" of the North-South relationship.
Ryoo Kihl-jae is a Dean at Seoul's Kyungnam University Graduate School for North Korean Studies. He says North Korea's behavior in Busan left South Korea no choice but to take a firmer position.
He says South Korea made a good-faith effort to resolve the issue of last week's missile firings, and was rebuffed by the North Korean delegates. He says that cannot help but produce a negative effect for the South's cooperative efforts with Pyongyang.
The collapse of the Busan talks coincides with a so-far unsuccessful mission by Chinese envoys to get North Korea back to the six-nation bargaining table. Pyongyang promised South Korea, China, Russia, the United States, and Japan last September it would begin the process of ending its nuclear weapons programs, in return for aid and security guarantees. But it has since boycotted follow-up talks.
It remains unclear what Beijing might do if Pyongyang refuses to make any accommodation. The Chinese have hesitated to use economic leverage against their historical ally for fear the North Korean regime might collapse, possibly triggering massive instability in Northeast Asia.