SEOUL, South Korea – The U.S. and North Korea's neighbors may meet soon to find a new way to deal with the communist regime after it snubbed formal talks on ending its nuclear program, conducted an atomic test and threatened war in response to U.N. sanctions, an official said Saturday.
South Korea has proposed the talks with five nations that have been trying to negotiate an end to the North's nuclear program for years. The U.S. and Japan have agreed to participate, while China and Russia have yet to respond, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official told The Associated Press.
He said it remains to be seen where or when the meeting — if it materializes — will take place, but one possibility is on the sidelines of a regional security forum scheduled in Phuket, Thailand in July.
"We have to see how things will play out," said the official, requesting anonymity because he was discussing a plan still in the works.
North Korea and the five countries began negotiating under the so-called "six-party talks" in 2003 with the aim of giving the communist regime economic aid and other concessions in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program. The last round of talks was held in December 2008, when negotiations became deadlocked.
In April this year, the North announced it would no longer participate in the talks. The official said North Korea could be approached for talks, as they are scheduled to attend the Phuket meeting. The communist nation has little interaction with the world, but it does attend the ASEAN Regional Forum, or ARF, an annual Asia-Pacific security dialogue.
Pyongyang has vowed to bolster its nuclear arsenal and threatened war to protest sanctions imposed by the U.N. after its nuclear test on May 25. It also test-fired a ballistic missile and is reportedly preparing for another long-range missile launch and a third nuclear test.
On Saturday, the regime unleashed a fresh round of threats against the sanctions in what has become an almost daily dose of condemnation, transmitted through its official media.
"The implementation of sanctions means war," North Korea's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
It also warned of a "merciless retaliatory strike" against South Korea if Seoul tries to infringe on the North's sovereignty in the pretext of implementing sanctions.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak floated the idea of bringing together officials of the five countries during his summit with President Barack Obama at the White House this past week, the Foreign Ministry official said.
But he cautioned that the envisioned meeting was still in preliminary planning stages and it was still not clear whether nuclear envoys or foreign ministers would participate.
Officials at Japan's foreign ministry could not be reached for comment Saturday. A spokesman for Russia's foreign ministry press department said there is no official information so far. A spokeswoman for China's foreign ministry said she could not confirm anything yet.
Last year, then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun and their counterparts from the four other nations on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore. Rice later held a brief one-on-one exchange with Pak.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy will visit Seoul on Friday for talks with South Korean officials. It gave no further details.