Diplomatic activity is intensifying ahead of six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program that are due to begin in Beijing next Wednesday.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing has met with North Korea's ambassador in Beijing and been in telephone contact with top diplomats from the United States and Russia. At the same time, Japanese and South Korean officials met in Seoul, as all sides worked to fine tune the agenda for talks set to begin next Wednesday.
China's official Xinhua News Agency reports that the Chinese foreign minister told diplomats the talks will provide a significant opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Nations taking part in the upcoming negotiations have praised China's efforts to push for a peaceful end to a crisis that analysts warn - if unresolved - could lead to a nuclear war.
A U.S. diplomat says North Korea will be pushed by all nations involved for nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula. However, Japan also wants to raise the issue of the kidnappings of several Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s. North Korea has warned Japan not to raise the issue, saying any mention of it could jeopardize the negotiations.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi met with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun Saturday in Seoul to discuss the agenda. Ms. Kawaguchi also met her South Korean counterpart, Yoon Young-kwan, and South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported that Japan does still plan to raise the abduction issue.
In a sign of the challenge that lies ahead, news reports on Saturday quoted the official North Korean news agency as saying the country will not give up its "nuclear deterrent" unless the United States ends what Pyongyang calls Washington's "hostile policy" towards the North.
While these are fairly typical comments by Pyongyang, they are a signal of the attitude the negotiators will face - an attitude for which they say they are prepared.
Russian and U.S. diplomats have said they do not believe the upcoming talks will yield any immediate major breakthrough. But a number of diplomats on Friday said the negotiations are a good first step.
The crisis began last October when the United States said North Korean officials had admitted to restarting their nuclear program, in violation of a 1994 agreement with Washington.