The US and Japan yesterday offered new talks with North Korea to resolve the increasingly dangerous stand-off over its nuclear and missile programmes, but said the reclusive communist government first must lower tensions and honour previous agreements.
North Korea has a clear course of action available to it, and will find "ready partners" in the US if it follows through, said US secretary of state John Kerry.
Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, who appeared with Kerry at a news conference, was more explicit, saying North Korea must honour its commitment to earlier deals regarding its nuclear and missile programmes and on returning kidnapped foreigners.
The officials agreed on the need to work towards a nuclear-free North Korea and opened the door to direct talks if certain conditions are met.
Their comments highlight the difficulty in resolving the North Korean nuclear situation in a peaceful manner, as pledged by Kerry and Chinese leaders in Beijing on Saturday.
Gaining China’s commitment, Kerry insisted, was no small matter given Beijing’s strong ties to North Korea.
The issue has taken on fresh urgency in recent months, given North Korea’s tests of a nuclear device and intercontinental ballistic missile technology, and its increasing threats of nuclear strikes against the US.
US and South Korean officials believe the North may deliver another provocation in the coming days with a mid-range missile test.
"The question," Kerry said, "is what steps do you take now so we are not simply repeating the cycle of the past years."
That was a reference to the negotiated agreements and UN Security Council ultimatums North Korea has violated since the 1990s.
"We have to be careful and thoughtful and frankly not lay out publicly all the options," Kerry said.
Given their proximity and decades of hostility and distrust, Japan and South Korea have the most to fear from the North’s unpredictable actions. Kerry said the US would defend both its allies at all cost.
Three students have complained after their university study trip to North Korea was used as cover for a BBC documentary on the state.
Professor George Gaskell, a director at the London School of Economics, said the university authorities were unaware until last week that the BBC had used a 10-person party as cover for an eight-day trip by Panorama to the country.
The professor said the party could have found themselves in a North Korean prison.
The LSE is calling for the BBC to pull the documentary, which is due to be broadcast tonight.