The United States and allies South Korea and Japan on Tuesday urged North Korea to recommit to giving up nuclear weapons amid deep concern following the death of the regime's leader Kim Jong-Il.
Senior officials from the three countries held talks in Washington to plot their next steps following Kim's sudden death on December 17, which left control of the nuclear-armed state to his young, inexperienced son Kim Jong-Un.
The US State Department said in a statement that the countries were committed to a six-nation 2005 agreement on North Korea "including its core goal of the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner."
"We also agreed that a path is open to North Korea towards the resumption of talks and improved relations with the United States, Japan and Republic of Korea through dialogue," it said, referring to South Korea by its official name.
The 2005 agreement -- which also involved China, Russia and North Korea itself -- called on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons in return for badly needed economic assistance and security guarantees.
North Korea stormed out of the six-way talks in April 2009 to protest what it described as US hostility. It has since sought to resume dialogue, but the United States has repeatedly insisted that Pyongyang commit to past agreements.
The United States has also urged North Korea to reduce tensions with the South. Pyongyang in 2010 shelled an island in the South and was accused of torpedoing a warship, incidents that killed 50 people in total.
"We agreed on the importance of improvement in inter-Korean relations and resolution of the abductions issue," the State Department statement said.
Japan has long insisted on progress in resolving the fate of Japanese civilians whom North Korea abducted in the 1970s and 1980s to train the regime's spies in Japanese language and culture.
After years of denial, Kim Jong-Il admitted in 2002 that his regime kidnapped 13 Japanese. He allowed five to return along with their families and said -- to Tokyo's doubts -- that the others were dead.
The United States, South Korea and Japan have all been cautious in official statements in the wake of Kim's death, hoping to avoid a flare-up of tensions amid questions on how the younger Kim will react.
South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Lim Sung-Nam said that the three countries were telling the North that the path to talks remained open.
The allies believe that "South-North Korean relations and the US-North Korea relationship can be improved through dialogue," Lim said, as quoted by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Lim met with Kurt Campbell and Shinsuke Sugiyama, respectively the top US and Japanese diplomats handling Asia, along with Glyn Davies, the US coordinator on North Korea policy.
Despite US distrust of North Korea, Washington last year reopened dialogue in hopes of keeping open channels of communication. The two countries, which have no diplomatic relations, held talks in New York and Geneva.
A third round was reportedly scheduled in Beijing before the announcement of Kim's death put the process on hold. The North said last week that Washington had offered it food aid and a suspension of sanctions if it halts its uranium enrichment program.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland last week denied that the United States was linking food to politics.
"Our decision will be based on our assessment of need and our ability to monitor what we might be able to provide," she said.
Christian-oriented US aid groups have said for months that North Korea desperately needs food assistance to save lives. But some South Korean policymakers and US lawmakers accuse the North of exaggerating its needs.
by Shaun Tandon Â© 2012 AFP
Date: Jan 18, 2012