meanwhile, in another part of the world . . .

Sun, 23 Mar 2003 10:04:31 -0800

North Korea Delays Inter-Korean Talks, Citing Military Tensions

EOUL, South Korea, March 22  North Korea said today that it was postponing
talks with South Korea, criticizing the South Korean government for beefing
up its defenses after the start of the United States-led campaign against

In Beijing, a United Nations envoy said North Korea, which Washington says
is developing nuclear weapons, was concerned that it would be the United
States' next target after Iraq. President Bush has referred to North Korea,
Iraq and Iran as an "axis of evil."

North Korea was scheduled to hold talks with Seoul starting on Wednesday to
discuss economic exchanges.

The North Korean government was "compelled to postpone meetings and contact
between the North and the South," North Korea's official Korean Central News
Agency quoted the chairman of the North-South Committee for Promotion of
Economic Cooperation as saying in a statement. "The South side is to blame
for this."

The news agency added that "the South Korean authorities declared a
dangerous `high alert posture' against the North under the pretext of the
Iraqi war," referring to South Korean media reports that said Seoul had
raised its military alert status.

The South Korean government denied those reports.

The statement also referred to current joint American and South Korea
military exercises as "driving the situation in Korea to the brink of war."

South Korea has been on guard for any steps by North Korea to ratchet up
tension in its standoff with Washington over its suspected nuclear weapons
program, after recent North Korean missile tests and the interception of a
American spy plane.

The United Nations envoy, Maurice Strong, told reporters in Beijing that he
had met "very senior officials" this week in Pyongyang, the North Korean

Asked if North Korea feared it would be the next target, now that
American-led forces had invaded Iraq, he said: "Fear I do not believe is in
their vocabulary. Concern, yes. There is a real desire to seek peaceful
settlement, but they are preparing for war, if necessary."

Mr. Strong, a Canadian aide to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan,
gave no details about those preparations.

The United States, focused on the war with Iraq, has played down a series of
recent North Korean moves, including two antiship missile test-firings in
the past couple of weeks and steps toward restarting its suspected nuclear
weapons program.

Some defense analysts say that North Korea may take advantage of
Washington's focus on the Iraq war to test a longer-range missile or start
processing spent nuclear fuel to make weapons in an effort to force
Washington into direct talks.

North Korea said on Friday that the Iraq war would have "disastrous"
consequences and warned South Korea that it was playing with fire if it
tried to mobilize its defenses.

North Korea accused the United States of inciting the second nuclear crisis
in a decade on the divided Korean Peninsula, saying the situation was moving
close to an "explosive phase."