The United States and Japan have agreed that concrete results concerning North Korea's nuclear weapons development must come out of re-started six-party talks later this month. But progress may be complicated by the parties' different ideas of what should or should not be on the agenda.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice sandwiched a 17-hour stop in Tokyo between key visits to Beijing and Seoul to discuss the upcoming talks, which have been stalled more than a year.
Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, standing alongside Ms. Rice, told reporters that the six-way talks must produce concrete results concerning North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
But Mr. Machimura said the talks must also discuss other issues, such as North Korea's missile development, the fate of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents and human rights.
The unresolved status of the abducted Japanese, who North Korea says are dead, is an emotional political issue in Japan.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday adopted a resolution calling on North Korea to release any Japanese and South Koreans it abducted who are still alive.
Ms. Rice told reporters Monday she supports having the talks - which involve both Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia - cover the abductees and other issues as well. "The nuclear issue is the one that is pressing us as we return to the talks. But we have always supported Japan's desire to get this resolved and made clear that we believe that the future of the relationship with North Korea has got to resolve a variety of issues," she said.
Ms. Rice emphasized that if Pyongyang is not willing to give up its nuclear weapons, the multi-lateral talks will end in failure.
North Korea has indicated it will resist Japan using the Beijing talks to discuss the abduction issue. Meanwhile, it appears Pyongyang would like to expand the discussions to include the issue of disarmament on the entire Korean peninsula.
The United States has tens of thousands of military personnel in South Korea, but is believed to have removed all of its nuclear weapons from the country in the early 1990s.
Officials from Tokyo, Washington and Seoul are to meet this week in the South Korean capital to coordinate policies prior to the six-way talks, which are expected to resume before the end of this month.
South Korea on Tuesday announced it will provide North Korea with 500,000 tons of badly needed rice. The agreement to provide the aid came after all-night talks on increasing economic ties.
The U.S. secretary of state said she had no objection to the food aid, noting that Washington has also contributed 50,000 tons of food to assist those in North Korea suffering from what she called a "humanitarian disaster."