The United States, Japan and South Korea are ratcheting up the pressure on North Korea to return to talks over its nuclear weapons development. There are strong signals coming from the three countries' capitals that patience with Pyongyang is running short.
Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura on Friday made his most blunt statement yet expressing Tokyo's frustration with Pyongyang.
Speaking to a parliamentary session, Mr. Machimura said Japan can no longer continue to sit motionless while Pyongyang refuses to cooperate in six-nation negotiations about its nuclear program.
Mr. Machimura is raising the possibility of referring North Korea's nuclear weapons to the United Nations Security Council for discussion of possible sanctions, a move Pyongyang has warned against.
Afterwards, Mr. Machimura told reporters that although Japan and other countries should still make efforts get the talks back on track, alternate options need to be kept in mind.
The Japanese foreign minister says his country is considering five-party talks if North Korea continues to boycott the negotiations.
Mr. Machimura first raised the idea of talks without North Korea in a meeting a week ago with the South Korean foreign minister, Ban Ki-moon.
Three rounds of talks hosted by China have been held, which also included both Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.
The last round took place eleven months ago. Pyongyang then boycotted a round scheduled for last September, saying U.S. hostility towards North Korea was not conducive to continuing discussions.
North Korea has previously said it would consider a move to involve the United Nations in the controversy "an act of war." China also opposes having the world body take up the issue.
Earlier this week, North Korea announced it had unloaded eight thousand spent fuel rods from its reactor at Yongbyon. That is seen as a step towards extracting plutonium from the rods to build nuclear weapons.
North Korea says it has developed nuclear weapons to defend itself, although no other government has been able to say if this is true or just a bluff.
Mr. Machimura's comments came as a number of sources, including the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Thomas Schieffer, warned that North Korea may be making preparations to conduct its first nuclear test.
The chief nuclear negotiators for the United States and South Korea, Ambassador Christopher Hill and Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, flew together from Washington to Seoul on Friday for continued talks on the issue. The United States has said it seeks a diplomatic resolution of the dispute.
Before departing for home, Mr. Song called on countries involved in the talks to take "strengthened diplomatic steps." He did not elaborate.
South Korean Finance Minister Han Duck-soo warned Friday that a North Korean nuclear test would have a serious impact on the South's economy, and weaken its ability to help its northern neighbor. South Korea is a major aid donor to the North, and favors engagement over confrontation.
But South Korea's defense minister, Yoon Kwang-ung, on Friday said the North should not possess nuclear weapons under any circumstances.