The communist country refused to hold further talks Thursday after walking out of their first discussions in months the day before, blaming the South for insisting on putting the deadly sinking of a warship on the agenda.
Ties between the two Koreas plunged to their lowest point in decades last year in the wake of two of the worst attacks since their 1950-53 war: the March sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors and a November artillery barrage on a front-line South Korean island that left four dead.
Talks this week had raised hopes in some quarters for improved inter-Korean ties and eventual discussion about North Korea's nuclear program.
But after opening on an optimistic note on Tuesday, the meetings inside the Demilitarized Zone ended abruptly Wednesday afternoon, with both sides accusing the other of walking out. At the heart of the impasse: the sinking of the Cheonan warship, which Seoul wants Pyongyang to acknowledge and which Pyongyang denies attacking.
South Korea wants to put both incidents on the agenda for any higher-level defense talks between the two Koreas that would be their first three years. The North seems intent on avoiding any discussion of the Cheonan — the sinking of which an international investigation blamed on the North. Pyongyang called Seoul's insistence a sign of Seoul's insincerity.
"The army and people of (North Korea) do not feel any need to deal with the group of traitors any longer now that they do not wish to see the North-South relations improved but totally reject the dialogue itself," the North Korean military said in a statement Thursday.
Analysts in Seoul, however, characterized Pyongyang's dismissal as a tactic designed to put pressure on South Korea to gain more concessions. They said the communist country would eventually return to dialogue with the richer South — after perhaps gaining more leverage with another provocation.
"North Korea is sending the message that North Korea wants to take the initiative and doesn't want be dragged along by South Korea," said Baek Seung-joo of the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. "It's not the first time they've done this."
He said it's unlikely North Korea will apologize for the attacks, particularly the warship sinking, as the South wants.
Minor provocations could be ahead as a way to step up pressure, said Jeung Young-tae, an analyst with the South Korean government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. He cited possible short-range missile tests or artillery firing drills near the disputed western sea border.
Seoul says the talks collapsed over the question of the Cheonan. It also wants to discuss an attack on Yeonpyeong Island.
The North also blamed South Korea for instigating that barrage by firing shells into disputed waters, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.
Pyongyang accused the South of hewing to "unreasonable" demands that Pyongyang take "sincere, responsible measures" in addressing the island attack and the ship sinking.
South Korea said Thursday it remains open to talks but won't back down over the two attacks.
"Our people suffered because of those two attacks, so we cannot just put them aside," Col. Moon Sang-kyun, the chief South Korean delegate, told South Korean reporters, according to the Defense Ministry.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the talks a "missed opportunity" for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity on dialogue and reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Talks between the two Koreas and an improvement in their relationship must happen before broader nuclear disarmament-for-aid discussions with other regional powers can proceed, a senior South Korean government official said recently. He said an apology wasn't a prerequisite to the inter-Korean talks, but that Seoul would judge North Korea's actions as a whole. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing government policy.
That timeline puts a premium on getting the two Koreas to the negotiating table, especially since concerns are growing about the North's expanded nuclear capability. South Korea says the North's newly disclosed uranium enrichment program — which would give it a second, easier way to manufacture atomic bombs — violates disarmament pacts and U.N. resolutions.
Chief South Korean nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac was in China, North Korea's main ally, to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said.
Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee in Seoul and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.