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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pyongyang Demands Food Aid, Stalls Talks

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea's demand for U.S. and South Korean food aid prevented agreement at a crucial meeting on Pyongyang's participation in landmark peace talks, Seoul officials said Thursday.

Senior diplomats from the three countries held inconclusive negotiations Wednesday in New York, where Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye-gwan was to give North Korea's answer to the proposed peace talks.

"North Korea indicated a positive response," said South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Lee Kyu-hyung. "The North said food aid was not a pre-condition for the peace talks, but nevertheless repeated that it would be difficult for them to come to the peace table unless food aid was assured," he said.

The four-party talks, also involving China, were proposed jointly by the United States and South Korea a year ago in attempts to work out a peace mechanism to replace the 1953 armistice that ended the three-year Korean War.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had said the New York meeting would produce "good news." But the negotiators only reported progress and said they would meet again Friday, when they hoped to reach a settlement.

"North Korea was putting forward a virtual pre-condition. We are firm that we will not guarantee any substantial food aid before we get down to the peace table," Lee said.

Both Washington and Seoul have pledged millions of dollars to appeals for food aid by the UN World Food Program and maintain that large-scale aid to the famine-threatened North could be discussed during the peace talks.

A senior Seoul government official said he expected North Korea to join the four-party talks eventually, "not because they want peace with the South but because they want food aid."

Chief U.S. negotiator Charles Kartman, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said after Wednesday's meeting that "there aren't any real blocks" to North Korea entering into peace talks.

"At this point, what we're trying to do is come to agreement about what the agenda and other details might be," he said.

His North Korean counterpart, Kim, said: "Maybe we can expect something for this coming Friday." But he added: "Sometimes talks do not end so easily. Sometimes talks can take quite a few days and sometimes they can take months to finish."

South Korean representative Song Young-shik said he expected "an answer" Friday and was "hopeful" it would be yes.

Officials in Seoul said Thursday that North Korea was only interested in food aid, more contacts and diplomatic recognition by Washington, and an easing of the U.S. trade embargo.

They said North Korea told Washington and Seoul that its food shortage totaled 2.5 million tons.

On a visit to South Korea last week, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen agreed with Seoul leaders that they should not feed a nation that, while begging for food, pours scarce resources into a strong military and threatens South Korea with chemical-tipped missiles.