Foreign ministers from the United States, Japan and South Korea will meet in Washington next week to plan their next moves in the international stand-off over North Korea.
The meeting, announced Tuesday in Tokyo and Seoul, comes as China appeals for the three allies to reconsider its proposal for an emergency meeting with North Korea. Tensions remain high, with U.S. and South Korean warships continuing a major exercise in the Yellow Sea, and both Koreas threatening an overwhelming response to any provocation.
North Korea Tuesday made its first public announcement about a uranium enrichment facility, which it showed to U.S. experts earlier this month. State media boasted that there are "many thousands of centrifuges" operating at the plant, which gives the country a second way to make nuclear weapons fuel.
Later Tuesday, a close confidante of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il arrived in Beijing for five days of talks that raised hopes for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, sparked by Pyongyang's shelling of a South Korean island last week.
Choe Thae Bok, a secretary of the ruling party's Central Committee, was accompanied by the director of the party's International Department.
The United States and Japan on Monday brushed off China's proposal for an emergency meeting of the six nations involved in negotiations on North Korea's nuclear programs.
A U.S. spokesman said a meeting would be nothing more than "public relations" until Pyongyang shows it is ready to change its behavior. But China's Foreign Ministry insisted at a briefing Tuesday that a meeting is "imperative," and urged the three to take its proposal seriously.
The idea is expected to be discussed further when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets in Washington next week with foreign ministers Seiji Maehara of Japan and Kim Sung-hwan of South Korea. The three will seek to coordinate their response to North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong island, which killed two soldiers and two civilians.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Clinton and Kim were also likely to discuss the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of this week's meeting in Kazakhstan of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Russia is a participant in the 6-party talks, along with the United States, Japan, China, North and South Korea.
In yet another diplomatic initiative, Japan's Foreign Ministry said its top official for North Korea was on his way to Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council convened Monday to discuss the Yeonpyeong shelling and North Korea's uranium enrichment program. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States is seeking stronger enforcement of U.N. sanctions against the North, and wants China to "play a responsible leadership role" in the region.
South Korean military officials have reinforced their garrison on Yeonpyeong, but late Monday canceled plans to resume a live fire exercise. It was the original exercise on the island last week that triggered the North's artillery barrage.
Pyongyang said Tuesday that if its enemies "dare to fire one shell in our territory and sea territory, they will have to pay for it."