South Korea's chief policymaker on North Korea says the inter-Korean relationship will remain chilled for the near future following the North's missile tests earlier this month. However, he warns that more international sanctions, such as the unilateral steps being considered by Japan, will only increase tension on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea ordered about 150 South Korean workers to get out of the country within 24 hours on Thursday. The workers have been building a permanent facility at a North Korean resort for the reunion of families separated since the 1950s Korean War.
On Wednesday, Pyongyang announced such reunions would be impossible in the near future - retaliation after South Korea responded to the North's recent missile tests by suspending food and fertilizer aid to the impoverished state.
In his first briefing to reporters since inter-Korean talks broke down last week, South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jeong-seok said Thursday food aid will not be resumed until tensions have eased.
He says North Korea's refusal to talk with the international community is clearly wrong. However, he warns that international attempts to confront the North with pressure and sanctions are not appropriate.
Despite a promise it made last September to begin eliminating its nuclear weapons capabilities, Pyongyang has refused to return to talks with South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States on implementing that pledge.
Lee says the best approach to the issue of North Korea's weapons is patience and dialogue.
He says a resumption of the six-nation nuclear talks would be the simplest and most visible sign of an exit from the current tension with the North. However, he cautions that a return to talks is not enough to guarantee an end to the tension.
South Korea backed a United Nations resolution last week condemning the North's missile tests and demanding Pyongyang suspend its ballistic missile program. The measure was put forward by the United States and Japan. Both countries say they are pursuing their own means of pressuring North Korea in addition to the resolution.
On Thursday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said his country must create a situation in which Pyongyang has no other choice but to return to the nuclear talks. He warned there would be "bad consequences" if North Korea did not change its current stance, but did not elaborate.
Japanese authorities say they are planning to cooperate with the United States on missile interception systems they say will be operational on the island of Okinawa by next March. Tokyo and Washington agreed on the deployment in May, before North Korea test-fired at least seven missiles into waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan.