South Korea Urges U.N. to Delay Meeting With North Regarding Nukes

South Korea urged the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Saturday to postpone a meeting on the North Korean nuclear dispute in case the two Koreas make progress in talks next week.

South Korea plans to send two envoys to North Korea on Monday for talks on ending Pyongyang's standoff with the United States over its nuclear weapons development.

In Vienna, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency is considering an emergency meeting on Feb. 3 to consider whether to refer the dispute to the U.N. Security Council. It would base its decision in part on the progress of diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff.

South Korea said it was seeking to postpone the IAEA meeting pending the outcome of its envoys' visit to North Korea.

"No consensus has been reached to hold the IAEA meeting definitely on Feb. 3, but we think the suggested date is too early in view of a new development -- the envoys' visit," said Chun Young-woo, a high-ranking official at South Korea's Foreign Ministry. "We need time to assess the outcome of the visit."

The U.N. Security Council could consider sanctions against North Korea. The United States, while pushing for U.N. handling of the issue, has not said whether it wants sanctions.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been high since U.S. officials said in October that North Korea had admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung urged direct dialogue Friday with the North, and the South's president-elect, Roh Moo-hyun, said that he would propose a summit with the North's leader, Kim Jong Il, after taking office next month.

The United States has said the dispute can be resolved peacefully, and on Friday, officials backed South Korea's calls for more dialogue.

"We think these dialogues serve as important channels to resolve issues of bilateral concern," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

North Korea on Saturday said through the state-run KCNA news agency that it was on the lookout for a U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk.

The carrier left its home port in Japan on Thursday, and Japan's Kyodo news agency reported it had been directed to stand by in international waters off the Korean Peninsula. U.S. officials refused to provide information about the ship's movements.

North Korea also repeated its demand Saturday for "direct and equal" talks with the United States to resolve its nuclear dispute and said other countries "do not need to poke their nose into it." The comments were in a report in the state-run Minju Joson newspaper and carried by KCNA.

Separate talks on transportation links in Pyongyang ended Saturday without a clear breakthrough. Northern officials insisted that two planned rail lines be completed simultaneously, while the South proposed finishing one first and then the other.

In Tokyo on Friday, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said Washington wants to bring the North's nuclear issue before the U.N. Council but that Council debate does not necessarily mean that sanctions will be imposed.

North Korea has said any Council sanctions against it would be tantamount to war.