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Koreas Talks Show Signs of Stalling

Reconciliation talks between the two Koreas showed signs of souring Tuesday when delegates canceled a joint luncheon and the South reported no progress in its push to get the North back into nuclear disarmament negotiations.

The first face-to-face talks between the two Koreas in 10 months came during elevated concern over the North's nuclear ambition. It said last week that it removed fuel rods from a reactor, a step toward extracting weapons-grade plutonium.

The two sides were scheduled to have a working lunch before wrapping up their second and final day of talks in the afternoon in the border town of Kaesong, but suddenly announced that the two delegations would eat separately.

The head of South Korea's delegation, Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo, told reporters that officials agreed on the South sending officials to the North's capital in June for the fifth anniversary of a North-South summit.

But no progress was reported on other issues, including the nuclear dispute. Asked whether North Korea just listened to comments on the nuclear dispute, as it had on Monday, Rhee would only say that consultations were continuing.

China on Tuesday, meanwhile, appealed to the United States and North Korea (search) to have direct contacts in order to restart six-nation talks.

"China hopes these two countries can have contacts so they can build mutual trust and understanding," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan. "Such contacts conducted anywhere and any time would receive our congratulations."

South Korea on Monday promised a major new "proposal" if the reclusive communist nation returns to stalled disarmament talks involving the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas.

No details were released, but South Korean media speculated that Seoul would offer massive aid to its impoverished neighbor, which has been wracked by famine.

South Korea provides fertilizer and other humanitarian aid to the North each year, but says any major economic aid should be preceded by North Korea's agreement to dismantle its nuclear weapons facilities.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher offered U.S. support for the South Korean initiative but said Washington believes aid for the North, "including food or helping them grow food, shouldn't be conditioned or negotiated as part of the six-party talks."

A Japanese report Tuesday said North Korea had forwarded an invitation to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) via China to visit the North for nuclear talks. However, a U.S. official in Washington denied the report in the Nihon Keizai business daily, saying no such invitation was received. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Washington has resisted direct talks with the North over its nuclear program.

The inter-Korean dialogue was the first potentially positive development on the Korean Peninsula since February, when North Korea claimed it had nuclear weapons and said it would indefinitely boycott arms talks until Washington drops its "hostile" policy.

U.S. officials reported last week that spy satellites spotted construction of a tunnel and a reviewing stand in North Korea_ possible indications of a coming nuclear test.

South Korean officials have dismissed such reports as lacking firm evidence.

Still, the United States and Japan have in recent days warned the North against conducting a test, with Washington saying it would respond with unspecified action and Japan indicating it could seek U.N. sanctions against the North.

The six-nation disarmament talks have been stalled since last June after three inconclusive rounds. North Korea refused to participate in the fourth set of talks, originally scheduled for last September.