Japan and the United States are urging North Korea to return to regional talks over ending its nuclear weapons program. The U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense met with their Japanese counterparts in Washington Saturday, where they also expressed concerns about Taiwan.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura made clear their deep concern over North Korea's recent admission that it has nuclear weapons and is suspending participation in six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear program.

In a joint statement, they said North Korea's nuclear program poses a serious challenge to the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and is a direct threat to the peace and stability of Northeast Asia, including Japan.

They urged North Korea to return to six-party talks involving the United States, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, China, and Russia, as the only way to meet Pyongyang's stated goal of establishing normal relations with the rest of the world.

Secretary of State Rice says the deal on the table at the six-party talks addresses many of North Korea's concerns about security and economic development.

"There is a path for the North Koreans to a different kind of relationship with the international community," said Condoleezza Rice. "It is a path that could include mutual security guarantees out of the six-party talks. It is a path in which the parties are prepared to talk about what the relationship might be with the North in the future, on issues that are of interest to the North."

The United States and Japan both believe China can convince North Korea to return to the six-party talks, as China is North Korea's most important economic partner.

A Chinese envoy flew to North Korea Saturday to urge Pyongyang to reconsider its withdrawal from the talks.

Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura says he hopes China will act, not merely as a moderator, but as an active player to get North Korea back to the negotiating table.

North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against what it calls hostile policies from the United States. While President Bush includes North Korea in his so-called Axis of Evil, he says Washington has no intention of invading the country, and is willing to make that guarantee in writing as part of the six-party talks.

Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Machimura also met with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Japanese Defense Minister Yoshinori Ono to discuss China's continuing military growth and security in Taiwan.

The United States and Japan said easing tensions across the Taiwan Strait is a common strategic objective. Secretary Rice says the officials spoke of their shared desire to ensure that cross-Strait issues can be resolved peacefully.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has threatened to use force if Taiwan formally declares independence. Taiwan has ruled itself since breaking away from China in 1949. The United States says neither China nor Taiwan should make any unilateral attempts to change the status quo.