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Nuclear visits still stalled

North Korea will not grant visas to nuclear inspectors until the United States sets a date for resuming high-level talks, a State Department official said Friday.

The demand was another setback to international efforts to resume inspections of the country's nuclear facilities. Secretary of State Warren Christopher had said only two days ago he expected an early resolution of the visa issue.

"The North has accepted the inspections required by the (International Atomic Energy Agency)," said Thomas Hubbard, deputy assistant secretary of state. "Incredibly, however, they've refused to issue visas to the inspectors, saying they first want to fix a date for a third round of formal talks with the U.S."

An administration official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, insisted the United States would not announce a date for resuming high-level talks before actual inspections begin.

The main purpose of the inspections is to determine whether nuclear materials are being diverted as part of a weapons program. North Korea denies that.