North Korea Delays Start of Peace Conference


U.S. plans for a peace conference that would finally close the Korean War were delayed Friday when North Korean representatives stalled away the day without saying whether they would attend.

Almost eight hours after U.S., South Korean and North Korean delegations were supposed to have met for preliminary discussions, a U.S. spokesman announced that those talks would be postponed until today because the North Koreans said they needed time to consult with superiors in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

“The North Koreans have indicated that they need to consult with their government,” the U.S. official said. “My delegation doesn’t have any information contrary to that.”


But U.S. officials grumbled privately that the North Koreans could have talked to the home office all day Thursday when the talks, which began Wednesday, were in recess.

The North Koreans clearly appeared to be seeking an advantage in the three-cornered controversy that has kept the Korean peninsula on edge since the war ended with an uneasy truce in 1953.


More than a year ago, President Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam proposed a four-power peace conference, with China filling the fourth position. China, which fought beside the North Koreans in the war, immediately indicated that it would participate if North Korea accepted.

U.S. and South Korean officials outlined their plans for peace to a high-level North Korean delegation six weeks ago.

At that time, Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea’s vice foreign minister and chief of the delegation, told reporters that his government was willing to consider anything that would “promote peace and security on the Korean peninsula.”

But he added: “We need further study of this proposal.”

Last week, Pyongyang announced that it would deliver its response Wednesday in New York. But the answer, which Washington and Seoul had hoped would be a simple yes or no, dragged out for the entire day.


The three delegations agreed to finish up Friday, recessing Thursday because Charles Kartman, the chief of the U.S. delegation, had appointments in Washington that day.

U.S. and South Korean officials said they expect North Korea ultimately to accept the peace conference plan.

Behind the screen of tactical maneuvering was the deadly serious matter of North Korea’s deepening famine. Although all sides agree that there is no direct link between humanitarian food aid and the convening of the proposed peace conference, the United States announced $15 million in additional food shipments earlier this week.

Sources close to the talks said the North Korean delegation has said that, although it has not made food a prerequisite for its participation, the “atmosphere” would be better in North Korea if people had enough to eat.

South Korean officials suggested that North Korea plans to draw out the current round of talks in hopes of prying more food out of the United States and its allies.