North Korea's approach to the outside world - following decades of self-imposed isolation - is undergoing some remarkable changes. But so far its autocratic regime is not ready to reverse one policy which has paid off handsomely in recent times, that of blackmail diplomacy. A reminder came yesterday in Kuala Lumpur. After three days of talks with US officials, Pyongyang's diplomats stated publicly what had been understood for some time: they won't stop selling missile technology to worrisome customers unless America bribes them. Specifically, they said North Korean missile exports to Pakistan and Iran will cease only if Washington sends the north US$1 billion in cash. The US rejected the offer on the grounds that it won't pay Pyongyang for stopping something that should not be happening in the first place. The two sides agreed to meet again, but they didn't say where or when. This flat finish to three days of once-promising talks is a reminder that North Korea remains a strange and unpredictable place by normal standards. Its Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, may have surfaced on world television screens as a rotund and jolly host, and his diplomats may be busy opening relations with many nations they once spurned (the Philippines was added yesterday). But nothing fundamental about its harsh ruling system has changed. Just yesterday, in a reversion to past rhetoric, Pyongyang labelled the leader of South Korea's political opposition 'an imbecile' for worrying about the north's missile and nuclear weapons programmes. There are still many reasons for hoping the promises of last month's Korean summit will lead to specific agreements. But the disappointing way the Kuala Lumpur talks ended suggests there is a long way to go.