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Koreas Talks Canceled - 2003-04-07

Talks between North and South Korea, scheduled to begin on Monday, have been scrapped. Seoul says it did not receive confirmation from Pyongyang that the meetings to discuss North Korea's suspected development of nuclear weapons would take place.

South Korea says, with the cancellation of the talks, ties with North Korea are now effectively frozen.

A spokesman at South Korea's Unification Ministry, Jung Ro Kim, said Monday the cancellation was no surprise, based on North Korea's recent behavior. "The North Koreans were sort of reluctant to have meetings with us for weeks and months recently," he said. "They have canceled economic talks and they have canceled the connection of railways a few weeks ago, so this was very expected."

Seoul had wanted to use the meeting to encourage the communist North to halt its suspected efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

The talks would have been the first cabinet-level meeting since South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun was inaugurated in late February. The cancellation is seen as a setback for his efforts to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, in a statement read on the telephone to North Korean officials, called the cancellation of the talks regrettable. He said Pyongyang failed to respect an agreement made in January to hold discussions on the nuclear issue.

The talks were scrapped two days before a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Pyongyang has repeatedly warned it will consider U.N. sanctions imposed on it an act of war.

Tensions have escalated since last October when the United States said North Korea had admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of several international agreements. Since then, North Korea has insisted on bilateral talks with the United States to resolve the issue. The U.S. government says any talks must include other countries in the region.

Also Monday, a high-level U.S. Defense Department official is in Seoul for meetings with South Korean officials. Deputy Assistant of Defense Secretary Richard Lawless is expected to discuss possible changes to the deployment of 37,000 American troops in South Korea. U.S. officials have indicated they would like to move some troops farther away from the border with North Korea.