North Korea on Thursday said it has "no modicum of any lingering desire" for inter-Korean talks. It was the first official comment since the North canceled talks scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
A spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, which deals with inter-Korean matters, accused South Korean officials of "scuttling the talks by arrogant obstruction and a deliberate plot."
"It's only too clear that it is impossible to sit at a table with such people to discuss ways to solve inter-Korean issues," the spokesman added.
Pyongyang abruptly cancelled the planned high-level talks when lower-ranking officials met over the weekend and wrangled over the rank of chief delegates.
The North Korean statement heavily massaged the chronology. It claimed South Korea replaced the unification minister with a vice minister as chief delegate right before the scheduled meeting, contrary to a promise made in the low-level talks over the weekend.
It accused the South of "acting rashly and bizarrely in a way never seen in the history of inter-Korean talks." But the North indirectly admitted its own ruse, which was apparently designed to scuttle the talks.
Seoul had requested that North Korea send Kim Yang-gon, who heads the committee, because he is roughly equivalent in rank and responsibility to the unification minister. But the North declined and instead listed an obscure apparatchik.
"The whole world recognizes that a secretary of the Workers Party's Central Committee [like Kim] is no match for a mere minister" of the South Korean Cabinet, the committee claimed.
It said past practice had been to send the "first deputy bureau chief" of the committee as its chief negotiator to inter-Korean ministerial talks, but this time decided to send a "bureau chief" instead to "save South Korea's face."
Previous South Korean administrations had indeed put up with such snubs in talks billed as "ministerial" for the sake of keeping contact going, but the talks usually achieved nothing.
The Unification Ministry in a statement said, "It's regrettable that the North scuttled the talks by objecting to the rank of the chief delegate and distorted the story." A ministry official said allegations that South Korea deliberately sabotaged the talks "are not worth commenting on."
A presidential spokesman declined to respond in detail, saying, "President Park Geun-hye has been pretty coolheaded since negotiations began. We hope both sides will make sincere efforts together and conduct a bona-fide discussion."