SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea refused to send food aid to North Korea until its communist neighbor starts dismantling its nuclear weapons program.
Four days of Cabinet-level meetings in Seoul ended Friday in a vaguely worded joint statement rather than any substantial agreement.
"Both sides agreed to further study issues aimed at promoting peace on the Korean peninsula as well as reconciliation and cooperation between the South and the North," it said.
South Korean media have voiced concern that the no-aid decision could lead to another chill in relations between the divided Koreas.
The South decided to delay a shipment of rice to the North until after Pyongyang moves on its promise during international arms talks to close its main nuclear reactor.
Last year, the North's delegation angrily pulled out of similar reconciliation talks after Seoul rebuffed its food aid request.
Seoul had promised the rice would be delivered by late May. But the timetable was thrown into limbo after Pyongyang missed an April deadline to close the Yongbyon reactor and let in U.N. nuclear inspectors — part of a deal it made in exchange for energy aid and political concessions.
A senior North Korean diplomat confirmed the North's intentions to shut the reactor down, but only after settling a dispute over frozen assets. At issue is North Korea's desire to reclaim funds from a Macau bank that was blacklisted by the U.S. in 2005.
North Korea's money was freed earlier this year, but the North has not withdrawn it, apparently seeking to receive it through a bank wire transfer to prove the funds are now clean. The U.S. had alleged the funds were tied to money laundering and counterfeiting.
President Roh Moo-hyun, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Seoul would continue to use aid as leverage to press the North to disarm. South Korea has drawn criticism at home and abroad over its "sunshine policy" of continued engagement even as Pyongyang holds onto its nuclear weapons.
"The fact that the Korean government is practicing the 'sunshine policy' toward North Korea does not mean that we forfeit all rights to take issue with North Korea's missile launches and nuclear test," Roh said Thursday.