SEOUL, South Korea – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) urged North Korea (search) on Tuesday to rejoin nuclear disarmament talks if it wants international aid, while South Korea (search) ended a high alert triggered by holes cut into a border fence.
South Korea, meanwhile, called on Washington and other participants in six-nation talks to show more flexibility in resolving the nuclear standoff -- comments that appeared to distance Seoul from U.S. proposals.
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon urged "all participating countries in the six-nation talks to make more creative and realistic proposals to help bring North Korea to the talks as soon as possible."
Powell said Washington has no intention of changing its North Korea policy soon, but would work to resolve the nuclear dispute.
"We agreed to continue devoting maximum efforts to achieving this goal through multilateral diplomacy and six-party talks," Powell said in a joint news conference with the South Korean foreign minister.
"Clearly, everybody wants to see the next round of six-party talks get started," Powell said, referring to the stalled talks among the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia. "This is the time to move forward, to bring this matter to a conclusion."
He said the goal was to help the people of impoverished North Korea have a better life, in part by providing more food aid.
"We don't intend to attack North Korea, we don't have any hostile intent notwithstanding their claims," he said. "It is this nuclear issue that is keeping the international community from assisting North Korea."
U.S. officials believe North Korea is biding its time on six-party talks, sensing that Democratic candidate John Kerry might win the election and be easier to deal with than Bush.
Powell, who was in Seoul following visits this week to Japan and China, also met Tuesday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and South Korea's unification minister.
Powell predicted that North Korea will return to the talks after next week's U.S. election, South Korean officials said.
Meanwhile, South Korea said that two mysterious holes found on the wire fence on the tense border with North Korea were most likely used not by communist infiltrators but by a South Korean defector to the North. It ordered its troops to stand down from a high alert.
About 60 miles north of Seoul, South Korean border guards had earlier found two holes in a wire fence at the buffer zone that has separated the two Koreas since their 1950-53 war. The conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, and the two Koreas remain technically at war.
The highly unusual discovery of the holes -- found on the fence checked daily by troops for signs of infiltration -- had triggered fears of North Korean commandoes slipping through the border and led South Korea to tighten roadblocks and traffic checks north of Seoul.
"After investigating the way the fence was cut and the foot prints in the scene, we have concluded that an unidentified person crossed into the north," said Brig. Gen. Hwang Joong-sun, an operational officer of the South Korean military.
Three rounds of six-party talks, held in Beijing, have yielded little progress. North Korea skipped a fourth round that was to have taken place in September, and lashed out Tuesday at Washington.
"It is impossible to open the talks now that the U.S. is becoming evermore undisguised in its hostile policy toward the (North)," said North Korea's official news agency, KCNA.
"The Bush administration is employing a sleight of hand to mislead the public opinion at home and abroad and garner support from more electors," it said.
North Korea reiterated that it would rejoin the six-nation talks only if Washington is ready to roll back its hostile policy, and offer a "reward" for freezing its nuclear development.
The United States is seeking the permanent denuclearization of North Korea and has said it will provide the communist government with economic benefits only after it offers a credible commitment to meet U.S. disarmament demands.
Powell rejected the North's demand that Washington change its proposals.
"We modified (our proposal) for the third round of six party talks, showed flexibility and tried to accommodate the interests of other parties," he said. "The way to move forward is to have the next round of six party talks, so that we can discuss that proposal and not have a negotiation with ourselves in a press conference."