North Korea responded with deafening silence to South Korea's proposal of a meeting of officials to discuss fresh reunions of families separated by the Korean War.
A Unification Ministry official on Tuesday said North Korea informed the South through a hotline in the border truce village of Panmunjom that there was "no message to deliver today."
The government expressed regret.
On Jan. 24, Pyongyang sent a message through the Red Cross proposing unconditional resumption of the reunions and saying it is "determined to create an atmosphere of reconciliation and unity."
The ministry official said the government will "wait until Wednesday for further responses." Seoul officials believe the North's silence stems from a delay in decision-making, because Pyongyang asked for the hotline at Panmunjom to be manned for an extended period.
Some North Korea watchers believe Pyongyang is unhappy with the date South Korea proposed, Feb. 17-22, which overlaps with former leader Kim Jong-il's weeklong birthday celebrations.
North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Tuesday urged South Korea to "join hands" with the North to improve inter-Korean relations but did not comment on the date the South proposed for the reunions. North Korea would apparently prefer to hold the reunions after joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises end in late February.
Nam Sung-wook at Korea University said, "North Korea is probably mulling the right timing as it is reluctant to pour cold water on a developing atmosphere of dialogue that was difficult to create."
Some experts point out that ongoing live-fire naval drills by South Korea in the West Sea are likely to have irked North Korea. But a government official warned against such speculation, saying, "North Korea made no mention of that through the Panmunjom hotline."