US cool on new talks with N Korea

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WASHINGTON (Reuter) - The US said yesterday that new talks with North Korea were unlikely because Pyongyang had interfered with nuclear inspections. Plans to suspend military exercises with South Korea were also reported to be under review.

After the International Atomic Energy Agency disclosed that Pyongyang refused to let its experts conduct some tests at a key nuclear site, 'it would appear that that (US-North Korean) meeting on Monday is now doubtful . . . I don't see how it's going to happen,' a State Department spokesman, Mike McCurry, said.

With North Korea again reneging on promises intended to give the international community confidence about its nuclear intentions, a US official said it appeared certain the issue would be referred to the UN Security Council.

But noting that North Korea 'has played brinksmanship every step of the way,' he said it could not be ruled out that Pyongyang in the next few days might agree to meet its commitments to the IAEA and the United States.

At his briefing, Mr McCurry gave no indication that the administration had any great hopes that this would happen. He said there were no plans for the Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Gallucci, who was to conduct the talks in Geneva, to fly there in case of some last-minute development.

The US, leading an effort to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme, promised in a 25 February agreement with Pyongyang to resume the high-level talks, which were suspended last summer, and also to suspend the 'Team Spirit' military exercises with South Korea. But Washington said this would happen only if North Korea gave the IAEA access to inspect seven declared nuclear sites and to exchange envoys with South Korea as part of a bilateral Korean dialogue on nuclear issues.

A North-South meeting on the envoys failed to reach agreement yesterday, but more talks were set for Saturday. Mr McCurry was not asked publicly about the status of 'Team Spirit'. US officials said privately the administration was discussing whether to stand by a postponement of the exercises and a decision must be worked out with Seoul.