Korea talks stalemated as U.S. warns of North's threat

SEOUL/WASHINGTON -- North and South Korea traded blame on Thursday for the breakdown of military talks, while in Washington the U.S. spy chief said nuclear-armed North
Korea poses a serious threat to security in East Asia.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Pyongyang's nuclear programs, and the military attacks in 2010 that are at the center of a North-South stalemate, showed that North Korea's military may imperil regional stability.

"As demonstrated by North Korean attacks on the South Korean ship Cheonan in March 2010 and Yeonpyeong Island in November, North Korea is capable of conducting military operations that could potentially threaten regional stability," he said, linking the attacks to succession in North Korea.

"Kim Jong-il may feel the need to conduct further provocations to achieve strategic goals and portray (Kim) Jong-un as a strong, bold leader, especially if he judges elite loyalty and support are in question," Clapper told a U.S. congressional hearing, referring to leader Kim Jong-il's plans to hand power to his third son.

North Korean state media blasted what it said was South Korea's "impudent approach" to talks between the two nations, saying it would not enter any more talks until Seoul showed it wanted to improve ties and discuss security issues concerning both sides.

South Korea said its offer for senior-level talks with North Korea still stands, but demanded that dialogue focus on the two attacks, which killed 50 people, and that Pyongyang bear responsibility.

China, the isolated North's main ally and main benefactor, called on the two sides to maintain contact and dialogue.

The first inter-Korean meeting since the North's attack on Yeonpyeong in November broke down over procedural issues, including the agenda and the rank of participants at their next meeting.

The United States, which has nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, said it hopes the rivals could work out their differences and resume talks as soon as possible to reduce tensions on the divided peninsula.


Clapper said "persistent food shortages, poor economic conditions, inability to replace aging weapons inventories and reduced training" had weakened the North's conventional forces and prompted Pyongyang to rely more on its nuclear weapons.

"The Intelligence Community assesses Pyongyang views its nuclear capabilities as intended for deterrence, international prestige and coercive diplomacy," he told the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

North Korea and South Korea accused each other of walking out on the talks.

"In a situation where (they) do not wish for improvement of North-South relations and are refusing dialogue itself, our military and people no longer feel the need to be associated with the South," the KCNA state news agency said.

South Korea said the North's delegates stood by their stance that Pyongyang had nothing to do with the sinking of the warship Cheonan and that it shelled Yeonpyeong out of self-defense.


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