SEOUL — Seeking to break a tense nuclear standoff with its rival to the north, South Korea said today that it would no longer press North Korea to exchange envoys as a precondition for further talks.
The envoy swap, along with full nuclear inspections, has been a key precondition for high-level talks between the United States and North Korea on improving ties and resolving the dispute over the North's suspected nuclear weapons development program.
While showing keen interest in improving ties with the United States, the hard-line Communist state has refused to exchange envoys with Seoul, arguing that its capitalist rival has no right to get involved in the nuclear dispute.
Seoul officials said the move to drop the demand for an envoy exchange would put more pressure on Pyongyang to clear suspicions over its nuclear program, which it insists is peaceful, by opening all of its nuclear facilities to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"North Korea's attitude clearly shows that it has no interest to exchange envoys," Unification Minister Lee Yung-duk said after a meeting of security-related Cabinet officials.
Tensions have been high on the Korean peninsula over suspicions that the North is developing nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang denies the allegations, but its yearlong refusal to allow U.N. inspections of suspected sites has heightened suspicions.
According to Seoul officials, North Korea has deployed 80% of its 1.1 million troops and more than 8,000 artillery and rocket systems closer to the border with South Korea.
Seoul, where one-fourth of South Koreans live, is within an hour's drive of the border.
The two Koreas never signed a peace treaty after the three-year Korean War ended in 1953.