U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has offered to negotiate with North Korea for a peaceful resolution of tensions on the Korean peninsula if Pyongyang takes steps toward abandoning nuclear weapons.
The top U.S. diplomat said Pyongyang has a "clear course of action available to it" and will find a "ready partner" for negotiations in the United States.
Kerry made the comment Sunday, at a news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo. Both called for North Korea to act first by resuming a process of scrapping its nuclear weapons program.
But in separate remarks to a group of reporters, Kerry said he will have to consult with colleagues in Washington about what specific actions they believe Pyongyang must take.
Kerry also reiterated Washington's commitment to the defense of Japan, a key U.S. ally. North Korea has made repeated threats to attack the United States and its regional allies including Japan and South Korea in recent weeks.
Pyongyang has been angered by joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that it sees as a prelude to an invasion of the North. Washington and Seoul have insisted the drills are defensive. North Korea also has reacted angrily to the latest U.N. sanctions imposed on it for carrying out a nuclear test in February. The United States and South Korea were among the main advocates of the sanctions.
Kerry is due to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday. The two are expected to discuss North Korea's weapons programs. Speaking Sunday on a visit to Iwo Jima, Mr. Abe said the international community must send Pyongyang a message that "provocative" acts will not bring any benefit to the North Korean people.
Japan has deployed missiles around Tokyo to intercept any North Korean rockets launched toward its territory.
In a message broadcast Sunday, North Korea dismissed the South's latest offer of dialogue as a "crafty trick." Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said there will be no talks unless Seoul abandons what it called a "confrontational attitude."
South Korea proposed the dialogue on Thursday, as a way of ending a crisis at the North's Kaesong industrial zone, where South Korean businesses employ cheap North Korean labor near the inter-Korean border. North Korean authorities withdrew the zone's more than 50,000 workers last week and blocked South Korean access to it, leading to a shutdown of manufacturing.
The zone is the last remaining site of inter-Korean economic cooperation.
Prior to Tokyo, Secretary Kerry visited Beijing, where he and Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi pledged to work together to resolve the Korean crisis. The two diplomats said Saturday they support the goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.