The top U.S. diplomat for Asia is in Tokyo to discuss the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. His visit comes as a South Korean official indicates that a second round of multilateral talks on the issue are likely to be held in Beijing in one month.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of States James Kelly has spent Monday with Japanese officials to discuss stopping North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. He also will visit China and South Korea for similar meetings, aimed in part at finding a way to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.
After weeks of diplomatic effort, it looks as though North Korea will join the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia for talks next month. A meeting of the six nations in Beijing in August ended inconclusively.
In Seoul, South Korean National Security Advisor Ra Jong-yil said Monday that a second round of talks is likely to be held in Beijing on December 17 through 18. He cautioned, however, that there has been no official announcement to confirm these dates.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry says it cannot confirm Mr. Ra's statement.
Mr. Kelly is meeting his Japanese counterpart, Mitoji Yabunaka, to discuss strategy for a second round of talks.
Mr. Kelly and Japanese officials also are believed to be discussing President Bush's offer to provide a written security guarantee to Pyongyang in exchange for an irreversible and verifiable halt to the North's nuclear activities.
Many Japanese fear that such an arrangement leaves Japan more vulnerable to a North Korean attack, since the isolated Stalinist state might not fear retaliation from the United States.
Tokyo is within reach of North Korean missiles. There are lingering hostilities between Japan and the communist North, which started in the first half of the 20th Century, when Tokyo colonized the Korean Peninsula. The two nations have never been able to settle their differences and establish diplomatic ties.
North Korea hinted Sunday that it is willing to give up its nuclear activities "in practice" - confirming earlier statements. But the Foreign Ministry comments carried by North Korea's official media said Washington must first end what it calls a "hostile policy" toward the North.
The nuclear dispute was sparked in October 2002 when North Korean admitted to running a nuclear weapons program in defiance of international non-proliferation accords.