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US Official: Dialogue Between Two Koreas 'Essential'

A U.S. official said Monday that dialogue between North Korea and South Korea is an essential element in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. But he said Pyongyang must refrain from "provocative actions" and show it is serious about denuclearization.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington that Pyongyang needs to take a number of steps, including "following through" on its 2005 commitment to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, before a North-South dialogue or six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program can resume.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday that the door remains open for dialogue with North Korea, but that its regime must demonstrate it is serious about such a dialogue. He said Seoul will respond sternly to any further military provocations by the North.

U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth is due to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday to discuss the next steps in the Korean crisis.

He will then visit China and Japan, prompting speculation that he will discuss prospects for a resumption of the six-party talks.

North Korea abandoned six-party talks on its nuclear program in 2008 after failing to reach an agreement with the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea on how its disarmament would be verified.

But after a series of provocative actions by the North, including a nuclear test in 2009 and two military attacks targeting South Korea last year, Pyongyang is now signaling that it wants to return to the aid-for-disarmament talks.