SEOUL — Reconciliation talks between the two Koreas dissolved Wednesday into finger-pointing and recriminations after North Korea objected to anti-terrorism measures imposed by the South in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
These were the first talks to end in failure since South Korean President Kim Dae Jung paid his historic visit to North Korea in June of last year, setting the stage for a gradual rapprochement.
South Korean negotiators returned to Seoul after seven days of talks at the North Korean resort of Mt. Kumgang without an agreement to meet again. A meeting between separated family members that had been slated for mid-December at Mt. Kumgang was called off.
So sour was the mood at the end of the talks--the sixth ministerial-level meetings since June 2000--that the two sides did not even release a joint statement.
"I am afraid we could be in the middle of a cooling-off period," South Korea's unification minister, Hong Soon Young, told reporters aboard a cruise ship returning from the failed talks.
The North Koreans were no more optimistic. "There runs a new danger of North-South relations going sour," North Korea's chief negotiator, Kim Ryong Song, was quoted as saying in a North Korean radio report.
The most immediate point of contention was a heightened security imposed in South Korea as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and of the war in Afghanistan. South Korea has officially declared a "state of alert" and has increased security around U.S. facilities.
The official North Korean news agency blamed the South Koreans for the collapse of the talks and pointed angrily at the security measures. The Korea Central News Agency charged that the South "provoked the North through the unilateral declaration of military alert and arms buildup."
Nevertheless, South Korean officials appeared to believe that the rapprochement will get back on track after the terrorism-related tensions ease.
Since last year's summit, the two sides have been in talks to reopen railroad links and telephone lines, as well as to reunite separated families. Those plans could be thwarted by the embarrassing collapse of the talks.
Chi Jung Nam of The Times' Seoul Bureau contributed to this report.