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U.S. calls off talks with N. Korea

South Korean navy soldiers carry the coffins of their dead colleagues during a memorial service in Seoul
South Korean navy soldiers carry the coffins of their dead colleagues during a memorial service in Seoul  

Staff and wires

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has withdrawn its offer to hold high-level talks with North Korea on its missile program and other topics.

The U.S. State Department formally notified the North Koreans Monday night through the country's diplomatic mission at the United Nations, one senior administration official said.

The decision was made, administration officials told CNN Tuesday, because North Korea had not responded to an offer made last month by Jack Pritchard, special envoy for negotiations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, to send a U.S. delegation to North Korea next week.

In that meeting Pritchard said "here's who is coming, here are the dates," recounted a senior U.S. official. North Korea has since responded with silence.

While a naval clash in the Yellow Sea between North and South Korea over the weekend "spoiled the atmosphere," a senior U.S. official said the main reason the offer for talks was rescinded was the lack of any response from the North.

"It was just too close to those dates," this official explained, referring to plans to for a U.S. delegation to travel to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang next week.

U.S. President George W. Bush recently described North Korea as being part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq.

The U.S. meanwhile has rejected as 'spurious' an allegation from North Korea that the weekend clash with the South was staged by the U.S. to strain ties between the neighbors.

The U.S. is siding with its ally the South over the battle, describing it as an "armed provocation," with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday sheeting home blame for the confrontation on the North.

Both Seoul and Pyongyang have blamed each other for starting Saturday's gunbattle that left at least four South Korean sailors dead, one missing, and at least 19 injured.

North Korea has not released any casualty figures, though South Korean officials estimate that there were as many as 30 were killed or injured.

North Korea says its forces acted in self-defense after the South Korean ships fired first.

Rules of engagement

CNN's Sohn Jie-Ae reports on South Korea's mourning of sailors killed in a naval battle with North Korea.

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South Korea has asked for U.S. help to prove its northern neighbor provoked the clash, and its defense minister has proposed changing the rules of engagement for clashes with the North.

The proposed change would allow South Korean forces to fire first -- a contrast to the current regulations introduced under the government of President Kim Dae-jung which require South Korea to broadcast a series of warnings before opening fire during a confrontation with enemy vessels.

But some South Korean officials say this doesn't allow it's military to respond quickly enough.

"The recent incident on the Yellow Sea raised problems in the case of North Korea making a surprise attack and we now see a reason to review the rules," a defense ministry spokesman said on Monday.

According to the spokesman, South Korea's Defense Minister, Kim Dong-Shin, proposed reviewing the rules of engagement in clashes with North Korea to Gen. Leon LaPorte, who commands about 37,000 U.S. forces in South Korea.

The spokesman said LaPorte responded positively, saying he will cooperate closely with the South Koreans in this review.

South Korean forces require the approval from the U.S. commander before changing or implementing key rules governing military affairs under their mutual defense pact which dates from the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The South says that two North Korean warships accompanying an undisclosed number of fishing vessels crossed the disputed sea border in the Yellow Sea between the two countries on Saturday before firing at the South's navy ships, triggering a 21-minute gun battle.

The sporadic gunfight caused one South Korean vessel to catch fire and sink. A North Korean ship also caught fire and is believed to have been destroyed. (Sailor's account of clash)

U.S. help

The South's military is analyzing radio communications made by North Korean patrol boats during the battle and has asked the U.S. to provide satellite pictures of the incident to help support its case, the Korea Herald Web site reported.

North Korea earlier issued a statement accusing South Korea of staging the attack and demanded an apology.

Seoul believes photos of the battle scenes taken by U.S. military satellites and U-2 spy planes deployed on the Korean Peninsula for the World Cup football finals will prove that the North fired first in the incident.

Kim Dae-jung has called the incident -- considered a blow to his policy of reconciliation with Pyongyang -- a clear violation by the North of the Korean armistice.

South Korea's military has been placed on a higher level of alert with a squadron of fighter jets and a battleship sent to patrol the area where the incident took place.

Series of incursions

Survivor Lee Hae-young talks to reporters at the military hospital in Sungnam, south of Seoul.
Survivor Lee Hae-young talks to reporters at the military hospital in Sungnam, south of Seoul.  

The two Koreas dispute the exact location of the sea border between their countries.

Saturday's clash followed a recent series of incursions by North Korean navy ships into South Korean waters. On Friday, two North Korean patrol boats briefly crossed the border -- the 10th such violation this year. (Timeline of incidents)

In June 1999, several border violations by North Korean ships sparked the first naval clash between the two Koreas since the 1950-53 Korean War.

A North Korean torpedo boat was sunk and two other North Korean vessels seriously damaged in the fierce battle. About 30 North Korean sailors were believed killed.

South and North Korea have been divided since the 1950-53 Korean War and are still technically at war.

-- CNN Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae contributed to this report




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