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North Korea Blames South Korea for Canceled Economic Cooperation Talks - 2002-05-06

North Korea has canceled four days of economic cooperation talks with South Korea that were scheduled begin Tuesday.

Pyongyang said Monday through its official KCNA news agency that it is pulling out of a series of meetings with Seoul on economic and trade issues because of what it calls reckless remarks made by South Korea's foreign minister on a recent visit to Washington.

North Korea's economic delegation said in a statement that Choi Sung-Hong had carried out acts that threaten the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue. The North has accused Mr. Choi of supporting what it calls Washington's hard-line policy toward the communist country and has demanded an apology.

While in Washington, Mr. Choi was quoted as saying that the North was interested in reopening contacts with South Korea and other nations partly because of the tough stance of President Bush's government towards the Stalinist state.

Andrew Pratt is a Seoul-based analyst for IRC, a research firm. He says he is not surprised by Pyongyang's move. "It is part of their negotiating strategy and the problem both sides have is accommodating or accepting that reality of the other side. Both sides always seek to have the higher position so that is just one more game of that type," Mr. Pratt said.

The economic talks were to have been held in Seoul and would have covered a wide range of issues. High on Seoul's agenda for the talks was the potential collapse of the Kumgangsan Dam, located just north of the Demilitarized Zone which divides the two countries. Collapse of the dam could cause widespread flooding in South Korea.

The delegates were also set to discuss a joint project to re-link intra-Korean railways and roads which have been severed since the Korean War, as well as the construction of an industrial complex in North Korea for South Korean firms. Also on the agenda was South Korea's plan to send 300,000 tons of rice to its impoverished Northern neighbor and investment protection measures.

Last Month, a South Korean presidential envoy went to Pyongyang and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, ending a five-month hiatus in inter-Korean talks. They agreed to restart a series of bilateral exchanges, including reunions of divided families and the now-canceled economic talks.