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The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"News of the cancelled talks quickly made news in Seoul"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 15:00 GMT
North Korea calls off talks
Korean family reunion
Families have recently been reunited across the border
North Korea has called off key cabinet level talks with South Korea at the last minute.

No reason was given for the cancellation, but there is speculation the North may be upset about last week's tough talk from Washington.

Presidents Kim Dae-jung and George W Bush
Kim Dae-jung's visit to Washington may have worried the North
An unusual broadcast on Pyongyang radio, addressed to South Koreans, urged them to reject "outside forces" and "subservience" towards the United States.

"The basic requirement in implementing the North-South joint declaration is that all the members of the Korean nation should arm themselves with national self-reliance and reject subservience and reliance on outside forces," the broadcast said.

The decision to cancel the talks comes just days after South Korea's President Kim Dae-jung held talks with his US counterpart George W Bush in Washington.

Mr Bush signalled he would take a tougher line towards the North, a state he regards as untrustworthy.

Military tensions

North Korean officials only informed their southern counterparts of the cancellation just hours before they were due to arrive in Seoul for the four-day meeting.

Border
The Korean border is one of the last frontiers of the Cold War
The talks were to have focussed on easing military tensions and the promised visit to the South by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The head of the South Korean delegation, Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu, expressed strong regret, saying he hoped talks could be resumed as soon as possible.

North Korea did not give any alternative date for the meeting.

Concern

The thaw in Korean relations began last June when the two leaders held a landmark summit at which they pledged to try to end half a century of hostility.

Although the unpredictable North has often cancelled or postponed inter-Korean talks at the last moment, the timing of this latest move is causing some concern.

Some analysts suggest one reason for the cancellation may be that Pyongyang has not yet formulated an official position towards the new US administration.

Both North and South Korea are under increasing pressure from Washington to show their policy of engagement is yielding tangible results to reduce tensions.

Yet that tougher line could result in a more unyielding attitude by Pyongyang - which may resort to brinkmanship diplomacy in its future dealings with the South.

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See also:

08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Seoul's fears over Bush
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Bush rules out North Korea talks
13 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Kim Dae-jung: Korean peacemaker
22 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea threatens end to missile deal
17 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
S Korea extends missile range
15 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Summer months melt Korean ice
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Pyongyang reaches out
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