The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee urged the Bush administration on Sunday to talk directly to North Korea to ease tensions over its nuclear program.
"That does not imply capitulation. It does not imply concessions. It just simply means face to face we are going to discuss the differences ... in order to avoid miscalculation," Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said on Fox News Sunday.
White House and State Department officials had no immediate comment Sunday. Administration officials have said they will not resume direct talks with North Korea while its nuclear program is active.
Levin said the United States should work closely with South Korea, which was sending national security adviser Yim Sung-joon to Washington this week to present a plan for easing the crisis.
No details have been disclosed, but it is expected to involve North Korean concessions on nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees.
After the talks Monday and Tuesday with Japanese and South Korean officials, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will fly to Seoul for further discussions. Also, Undersecretary of State John Bolton will go later in January to Japan, South Korea and China for more talks.
Levin said he did not want to prejudge Seoul's proposal. He said the United States should work closely with South Korea and "end this appearance that we have too often created that we're the senior partner and South Korea is the junior partner."
Levin said North Korea poses a bigger threat to the United States than Iraq does. He credited Bush for not pursuing military action against North Korea, but said administration comments that it could fight the two countries simultaneously "plays right into North Korean paranoia."
"It's great that we're strong, we're the world's only superpower, but we've got to use that wisely and not use the rhetoric which is so inflammatory," he said.
Also Sunday, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Alexander Losyukov, said after a meeting with his South Korea counterpart that the two countries "agreed to make joint efforts to ease the crisis" and persuade the parties to sit down for talks.
North Korea has left open the possibility of mediation by a third country in the dispute between Pyongyang and the United States.