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U.N., N. Korean meeting in DMZ postponed

By the CNN Wire Staff
South Korean soldiers patrol along the DMZ.
South Korean soldiers patrol along the DMZ.
  • Officers were to discuss sinking of South Korean warship
  • United Nations says meeting could be precursor to higher-level meetings
  • North Korea maintains its innocence in the incident

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- A much-anticipated meeting Tuesday between military officers of the U.S.-led U.N. Command and North Korea in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea has been postponed, the command said.

A new meeting time was not immediately proposed, the command said.

They planned to discuss the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan.

The U.N. officers were slated to be U.S. colonels, as the United States holds responsibility for U.N. security forces in Korea.

North Korea had accepted a U.N. proposal for the meeting of colonel-level leaders to be a precursor to talks between generals on the contentious naval incident.

The demilitarized zone was created as part of the armistice signed between North and South Korea in 1953 that halted the Korean War, but the war has never officially ended.

The United Nations and North Korea began occasional meetings between generals -- "General Officer Talks" -- at Panmunjom in 1998 to lessen tensions. There have been 16 such meetings to date, the last one in March 2009, the United Nations said.

On Friday, the United Nations formally condemned the sinking of the Cheonan but did not specifically name North Korea, which an international joint civilian-military investigation deemed culpable. Australia, Britain, the United States, Sweden and South Korea provided experts for the inquiry.

"The Security Council deplores the attack," the 15-member council said Friday in what is known as a presidential statement. It urged that "appropriate and peaceful measures be taken against those responsible for the incident aimed at the peaceful settlement of the issue."

It also called for full adherence to the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, which ended hostilities in the Korean War.

Despite the absence of North Korea's name in the condemnation, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the message to the communist nation is "unmistakable."

"This statement is notable and it is clear," Rice said after its approval at a Friday session. "It uses the term 'attack' repeatedly, which you don't have to be a scholar of the English language to understand is not a neutral term."

South Korea welcomed the statement.

"I think it's crystal clear that [the] Security Council made it clear that North Korea [is] to be blamed and to be condemned," said Park In-kook, South Korea's ambassador to the United Nations.

A presidential statement, unlike a Security Council resolution, is not legally binding, though it requires approval of the council's five permanent members: China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and United States.

The Security Council expressed "deep sympathy and condolences" for the deaths of 46 sailors aboard the Cheonan.

The isolated North has maintained its innocence, rejecting the investigation findings outright, questioning the validity of the experts involved, asking to conduct its own inquiry and telling the Security Council that North Korea is the true victim of a conspiracy.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, called the presidential statement "devoid of any proper judgment," according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Friday.

He added the case "should have been settled between the North and the South without referring it to the U.N. The DPRK remains unchanged in its stand to probe the truth about the case to the last."