SEOUL, South Korea – The United States, Japan and South Korea urged North Korea on Saturday to return to nuclear disarmament talks without delay, indicating they would not give the communist state any rewards before negotiations resume.
The three allies also urged China — North Korea's last remaining major ally, a trading partner and key supplier of energy — to play a bigger role in persuading the North that returning to the talks is in its interest.
Top negotiators from the three countries met in Seoul to formulate a common response to North Korea's claim this month that it has nuclear weapons and that it will boycott future disarmament talks.
"We agreed to urge North Korea to return to the meeting without delay so that it can have wide-ranging discussions on matters of its concern," South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon (search) told reporters after Saturday's meeting.
Also, the three allies "expect China to strengthen its efforts for an early resumption of the talks," Song said.
The meeting, the first of its kind since the North's Feb. 10 claim it has nuclear weapons, was also attended by Kenichiro Sasae, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asia-Oceania bureau (search), and Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul who has been named Washington's top negotiator in the North Korean nuclear dispute.
Hill declined to comment, except for calling Saturday's consultations an "excellent meeting."
Sasae told reporters that North Korea must rejoin the talks "without any conditions."
Such a position appeared to rebuff North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (search). Kim told a visiting Chinese envoy on Monday that his government would return to the negotiating table if certain conditions are met and if the United States shows sincerity and takes concrete actions.
North Korea is believed to be seeking concessions for returning to the six-nation talks, which also include Russia and China. The United States, however, says no rewards should be given just for coming to the negotiating table.
A senior Chinese Communist Party leader, Wang Jiarui, met with Kim in Pyongyang on Monday. Afterward, China and South Korea urged both the United States and North Korea to be more flexible in the two-year nuclear standoff.
Japan's Kyodo News Agency, citing multiple anonymous sources, reported that China has asked Japan to convince the United States to be more flexible.
Hill, however, has insisted on "coordinated" actions, warning that Pyongyang could try to exploit divisions among the participants of the multilateral discussions.