SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea (search) said Monday it would delay by two weeks its return to nuclear talks, blaming the decision on U.S. military exercises and Washington's appointment of a special envoy on human rights.
Delegates to six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up nuclear development took a recess earlier this month after failing to agree on a statement of basic principles. They agreed to meet again this week.
But the communist nation's Foreign Ministry on Monday postponed the talks, saying it will return the week of Sept. 12 "when one will be able to view that the war exercises have worn down a bit."
"What the U.S. has done is little short of spitting at the DPRK (search)," the official Korean Central News Agency, KCNA (search), quoted an unnamed ministry official as saying. "It has seriously insulted its dialogue partner and broke faith with the DPRK."
DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the country's official name.
The ministry spokesman said the nations in the talks — China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas — had agreed not to make comments or take actions that would hinder resuming the talks, but the moves by Washington obliged it to act.
North Korea had notified the United States during recent contacts in New York that it couldn't return to the talks as scheduled during the military exercises, the spokesman said, adding the United States expressed understanding of the North's position.
North Korea routinely criticizes the annual Ulchi Focus Lens military exercises between South Korea and the United States that run through Friday this year. About 10,000 Americans and an undisclosed number of South Koreans are taking part in the exercise, which will evaluate and coordinate defense operations on the Korean Peninsula.
"It is unimaginable for the DPRK to sit at the negotiating table with the U.S. at a time when the powder-reeking war exercises targeted against it are under way," the North Korean spokesman said.
Also angering Pyongyang, Washington announced Aug. 19 that Jay Lefkowitz, a former adviser to President Bush, will be in charge of promoting efforts to "improve the human rights of the long-suffering North Korean people."
The new post is part of the North Korean Human Rights Act passed in the Senate last year that provides $24 million a year in humanitarian aid for North Koreans, mostly for refugees.
North Korea has long been criticized for its human rights record, and the State Department has said between 150,000 and 200,000 people are believed to be held in prison camps for political reasons alone. The North denies it holds any political prisoners.
In a separate commentary, KCNA said the appointment of the envoy was an "absurd and foolish attempt to 'overthrow the system' of the DPRK at any cost by adding the 'human rights' racket to the nuclear issue."
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said Monday he also expected the talks to reconvene in mid-September, after a scheduled visit early next month to Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao, according to pool reports from the South Korean president's office.
"Our position is that it would be difficult [to restart the talks] within this week," ministry spokesman Lee Kyu-hyung said. China will notify the negotiators when the talks are to be held, but "there has been no notification yet," he said.
The nuclear crisis erupted in late 2002 after U.S. officials say North Korea admitted to running a secret nuclear program in violation of an earlier deal with Washington.
At the earlier talks, the sides deadlocked over the North's insistence to "peaceful" nuclear programs, such as for generating electricity. The United States says it doesn't want to allow any nuclear programs in the North, citing its past record of seeking atomic weapons.