North and South Korea decided to cut short their cabinet-level talks and bring them to a close Thursday amid a stalemate over Pyongyang's recent missile tests, officials here said.
"The two sides have decided to hold the final meeting to wrap up the talks at 2:30 pm (0530 GMT)," Unification Ministry spokesman Yang Chang-Seok told journalists.
"The North Koreans decided to return home today," a day earlier than originally scheduled, he said.
The high-level talks, which began late Tuesday, were originally scheduled to continue until early Friday when the North Koreans were to return to Pyongyang.
Through the highest level of standing dialogue between the two Koreas, South Korea has been trying to press the North into giving an assurance that it would stop firing any more missiles and return to six-party talks.
But its efforts to wrest a commitment from North Korea to return to dialogue on ending its nuclear weapons drive and missile tests made little progress, the spokesman said.
"We have been making efforts to get a commitment from the North concerning the missile and nuclear issues," Yang told AFP.
Pyongyang remains adamant that it would not move first unless Washington removed financial sanctions imposed on it for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting.
South Korea's chief delegate, Unification Minister Lee Jong-Seok, has warned the North against firing off more missiles which he said caused instability in the region and damaged inter-Korean ties.
"He also made it clear that the North must return to the six-party talks and that's the only way to end the current impasse," Yang told journalists.
North Korea has asked for a half million tonnes of rice aid and raw materials for light industries.
It also called for a complete halt to joint US-South Korea military exercises from next year to mark the seventh anniversary of a historic inter-Korean summit.
The South, the biggest donor to the impoverished state, has suspended humanitarian aid in response to the missile tests.
Tensions have risen markedly in the region since North Korea tested seven missiles in rapid succession on July 5, triggering global condemnation and leading to talk of possible sanctions at the United Nations.
But veto-wielding powers at the UN Security Council are divided over how to respond to the missile tests.
The United States, France and Britain support a draft resolution introduced by Japan which requires punitive action against Pyongyang for the missile tests.
Unlike the Japanese draft, a watered down resolution introduced by Russia and China does not make the proposed weapons-related sanctions mandatory and does not invoke Chapter Seven of the UN charter, which can authorize sanctions or even military action.
It also does not characterize the missile tests as a "threat to international peace and security."