North Korea cancels talks with South

War in Iraqi is said to be `their main reason'


SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea canceled ministerial-level talks with South Korea yesterday, a day of mounting tension about the implications of the fast-moving war in Iraq and a debate at the United Nations on the Korean nuclear crisis.

The North served notice that South Korea's unification minister, Jeong Se Hyun, would not be welcome for talks set for this week in Pyongyang by failing to get in touch with South Korean officials to confirm the meeting.

"The North Koreans didn't say a word about it," said a unification ministry official. Nor, he said, did the North respond to a call from the ministry expressing regret over the failure to meet and urging talks in the near future.

"The Iraqi war is probably their main reason," the official said. "They are watching very closely how the war is developing."

Last month, North Korea canceled two scheduled working level-talks with South Korea.

The Cabinet-level talks were scheduled to take place in Pyongyang from yesterday to Thursday.

Tomorrow, the U.N. Security Council is to meet to discuss North Korea's nuclear program.

North Korea's anxiety over Iraq and its anger over South Korea's support of the U.S.-led coalition are viewed as the reasons why Pyongyang declared that scheduled debate a "prelude to war" and that any decisions that might emerge would be "null and void."

"There must be some intense concern about where things are going right now, about the implications of the Security Council debate and what's happening in Iraq," said Scott Snyder, the Asia Foundation representative here. "All these things are related."

While the outcome of the Security Council debate is far from clear, North Korea at best can expect to face intense embarrassment as the American ambassador to the United Nations, John D. Negroponte, cites evidence of North Korea's march toward emergence as a nuclear power. Negroponte has said that he does not expect decisive action by the Security Council this week.

Meanwhile, two senior American officials - one from the Pentagon, the other from the State Department - opened talks here yesterday that may portend a major shift in U.S. forces in South Korea.

Richard Lawless, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asian policy, and Christopher LaFleur, who holds the title of special envoy, met with South Korea's top defense ministry policy official, Lt. Gen. Cha Young Koo, on what Lawless said was "the first formal meeting on the future of the alliance policy initiative."

Lawless said the talks were "to improve our alliance," and to "look for ways to make it a more capable alliance, a more equal alliance and an alliance that is less intrusive in the daily lives of the Korean people."

Behind the diplomatic verbiage, said analysts here, lay American concerns about whether to keep the entire 16,000-man 2nd Infantry Division on the invasion route between Seoul and the line with North Korea, 30 miles north of here at the nearest point.

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