High-level diplomacy continues in Tokyo as U.S. and other negotiators try to lure North Korea back to six-party negotiations over its nuclear weapons programs. But it appears unlikely there will be any direct talks between the top U.S. and North Korean diplomats, who are among the participants in a Northeast Asian security conference.
This is the first time in months that all the negotiators from the six nations involved in the North Korean nuclear talks have been in the same place at the same time. But as it turned out, that was no guarantee that they would all talk to each other.
The host of the stalled six-way talks, China, again found itself playing the middleman role here.
Chinese and North Korean officials met on Monday, and then the top U.S. diplomat in the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, had talks at the Chinese embassy Tuesday with China's Vice Foreign Minister, Wu Dawei.
However, Hill later dashed any hopes of an imminent meeting with the North Korean negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan.
"I'm not aware of that," said Hill. "Nothing is scheduled, nothing has changed."
Hill told reporters that what is needed from the North Koreans is not merely a willingness to talk, but a readiness to act. The U.S. official said he has a suitcase all ready for Beijing, if Pyongyang returns to the six-party process ready to take concrete steps towards resolving the nuclear dispute.
North Korea agreed in principle last September to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs - as the other five parties to the talks are demanding - in return for economic aid and diplomatic concessions. But then Washington imposed sanctions on several North Korean companies and a bank, accusing Pyongyang of drug trafficking, currency counterfeiting and money-laundering.
North Korea declared that it would not return to the nuclear talks until Washington lifted those sanctions.
Washington argues that the two issues are not related, but Hill on Tuesday speculated that North Korea had linked the issues to give itself more time to decide on its next move in the nuclear talks.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday said North Korea had not shown any sign of separating the sanctions issue from the six-nation talks.
The talks between Hill and Wu at the Chinese embassy came after a series of discussions over the last several days, some one-on-one and others involving several nations - all seeking ways to break the stalemate.