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US, South Korea Discuss Allied Response to Pyongyang's Nuclear Program

Washington and its key Asian allies are maintaining a united front on the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, even as there are differences on procedural details.

John Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, met with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan in Seoul Wednesday, as part of a swing through Asia to refine the allied response to North Korea's nuclear program. While the two were meeting, another South Korean official suggested North Korea is being unrealistic in demanding a non-aggression pact from Washington before it will cancel its weapons program.

Ban Ki-moon, the presidential adviser for foreign policy, told a local radio station that the United States has not signed such a treaty with any other nation. He said North Korea's security concerns could be handled by means other than a nonaggression pact.

In Tokyo on Wednesday, a senior Japanese government official told reporters that the United States is developing a proposal to address North Korea's security concerns. But the official said the proposal would only be shared with Pyongyang in the context of multiparty talks.

Washington views North Korea's nuclear weapons development as a threat to the whole Asia-Pacific region, and has been holding out for multilateral talks in which all of North Korea's neighbors would take part.

North Korea's state-controlled news media on Wednesday repeated Pyongyang's persistent demand for one-on-one talks with Washington. They also reiterated the demand for a non-aggression treaty to guarantee the North's security.

Few details of Mr. Bolton's meeting in Seoul were released. Foreign Ministry officials did tell Reuters News Agency that one topic of discussion was North Korea's failure to respond to a recent U.S. proposal for two-phase multilateral talks on the dispute.

The idea would be for Washington and Pyongyang to talk again in Beijing, as they did briefly in April. Those talks would then be expanded to include South Korea and Japan, and possibly Russia.

One area of disagreement among the allies is the possible role of the United Nations Security Council. In China on Tuesday, Mr. Bolton urged the Council to take on a greater role in ending the crisis. But South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon told the Financial Times it would be better to resolve the issue "outside the U.N. framework." But South Korea denied Wednesday that this difference of opinion amounted to a major disagreement between Washington and Seoul. Pyongyang has said that any move by the United Nations to get involved in the issue would be considered an act of war, and Seoul wants to keep the issue from escalating further.

Mr. Bolton flies to Tokyo Thursday to discuss the 10-month-old crisis with Japanese officials.