South Korea on Wednesday hinted that a new round of multilateral talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis is likely next month.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said Wednesday that a second round of multiparty talks to resolve the standoff over North Korea's nuclear ambitions is likely in December, but that no specific date had been set.
But Mr. Yoon denied a report in Japan's Asahi newspaper that Washington and Pyongyang have agreed in principle to talk in mid-December.
"As far as we are aware, no date and no venue has been set as of this moment," said Japanese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jiro Okuyama, who also denied the story. "Our expectation is that the earlier the timing of that second meeting, the better for us. There is no reason we need to be more pessimistic than optimistic," he said.
Comments from Japan and South Korea follow similar statements from China and the United States that plans for more talks are progressing. A Chinese official said this week that talks could soon take place if "differences between the sides can be narrowed."
From Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, the top U.S. official for Asia, said prospects for a second round of six-nation talks were good and that he would visit China, Japan and South Korea to prepare.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo is visiting Seoul and Tokyo this week to discuss China's role. China is one of the few allies of the North and gives the most aid to the impoverished Stalinist state.
The parties to the talks are North and South Korea, Japan, China, the United States, and Russia.
Beijing hosted a first round of talks with the six countries in August, but they ended inconclusively. Since then, North Korea has not committed to a second round.
The reason for the talks is a dispute that flared in October 2002 when Washington said Pyongyang admitted to a secret program to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs, defying international nonproliferation pacts.
The North is demanding security guarantees, including a bilateral non-aggression pact with the United States, before giving up its program. But U.S. officials want a complete and verifiable halt to North Korea's nuclear endeavors.
Pyongyang, which often uses brinkmanship as a negotiating tactic, has recently been broadcasting stern rhetoric aimed at the United States and Japan and has demanded money.
In an official broadcast late Tuesday, North Korea demanded talks with Japan on payments for brutality during Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
It also warned Washington that it must pay penalties for freezing a $5 billion international project to build two power plants.