Chief delegates delayed a final meeting as working-level officials argued over the wording of a joint statement that was supposed to be released later Friday.

 

“We keep urging the North to accept the expanded multilateral talks, which should include both Koreas, the United States, China and Japan, on the nuclear issue,” said Shin Un-Sang, the spokesman for the South Korean delegates.

 

South Korea wants multilateral talks to take place at an early date, considering them “inevitable”, Shin said.

 

“But the North was repeating its established position,” he said.

 

North Korea wants only bilateral talks with the United States to resolve the deepening nuclear crisis.

 

Seoul’s chief delegate, Unification Minister Jeong Se-Hyun, failed to produce tangible results on bridging the gap over multilateral talks with his northern counterpart Kim Ryong-Song late on Thursday.

 

Both sides had to postpone a final session of formal talks for more than six hours Friday due to disagreements over the wording of the joint statement.

 

The north Korean team is due to return home early Saturday.

 

Pyongyang has so far refused to agree on multilateral talks although it has shown some flexibility about a dialogue format to address the nuclear issue.

 

South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-Kwan said Seoul was exerting maximum pressure on Pyongyang so that the communist regime there would  accept multilateral talks within a month.

 

He told YTN television on Friday that South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun had also urged China to apply pressure on Pyongyang for the same purpose.

 

Young-Kwan warned that Pyongyang's refusal of multilateral talks would change Seoul's reconciliatory North Korea policy, according to Yonhap news agency.

 

The nuclear crisis broke out in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted to developing nuclear weapons.