Japan and the United States back five-nation talks on the nuclear standoff with North Korea at an upcoming international summit, Japan's foreign minister said Monday, adding the two allies demanded concrete results from future negotiations with the reclusive communist state.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said the idea of a five-way meeting - between Japan, the US, South Korea, China and Russia - came up in a meeting with R. Nicholas Burns, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, in Tokyo on Monday.
"Japan and the US will propose the five-way talks (in Vietnam)," Aso told reporters after the meeting with Burns, referring to the APEC summit in Hanoi. "We don't know yet if the others will go along with the proposal," he added.
North Korea is not a member of APEC.
Burns was on a tour of the region to coordinate policy on North Korea, which last week announced it would return to six-party nuclear talks that have been stalled for a year. It was unclear when those negotiations would resume.
Burns rejected a North Korean call over the weekend for Japan to be excluded from the six-way talks because of its demand - reiterated on Monday - that Pyongyang not attend the talks as a declared nuclear power.
"These are six-party talks and the United States believes that one of our most important partners in that configuration is Japan," Burns told reporters. "Obviously we all stick together and we all participate in these negotiations."
North Korea on Oct. 9 tested an underground nuclear device, triggering UN Security Council sanctions and raising concerns the hard-line regime was on its way to developing a nuclear weapon that could threaten its neighbors.
Both Japan and the United States demanded progress in the six-way talks on their demands that North Korea give up its quest for a nuclear weapon and allow outside verification that it is complying with such a pledge.
Japanese officials said Tokyo welcomed North Korea's announcement it would return to talks, but that the negotiations were not an end in themselves.
"Carrying out the six-party talks is not the objective," Aso said. "The six party talks is a means and the objective is the abandonment of nuclear weapons."
Aso also said that Japan and the United States would not accept North Korea as a nuclear state. Japanese officials have been arguing against allowing North Korea back to the negotiating table as an atomic power.
"On the question of whether North Korea will return this time as a nuclear nation, it is impossible (for North Korea) to return in that position," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Monday.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was also in Tokyo for talks with Japanese leaders on North Korea and other issues. Ban, the next UN secretary-general, met Aso on Sunday evening. Ban also met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday.
While in Tokyo, Ban attempted to squelch a brewing debate in Japan over whether the government should discuss the possibility of developing its own nuclear deterrent in response to North Korea's test.
"I don't think remarks like these are desirable for the future of Japan, which is one of the most important members of the United Nations and also a major power in East Asia," Ban told reporters.
Abe has declared that Japan would not consider developing its own nuclear weapons, but some high-ranking members of his ruling party have called for such discussions.
North Korea's announcement it would return to six-party talks was the first easing of tension after its nuclear test.
But Pyongyang lashed out at Japan on Saturday, demanding that Tokyo stay away from the negotiations and calling Japanese officials "political imbeciles" for saying they will not accept a nuclear North Korea.
In Seoul, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said Monday that North Korea's return to international talks doesn't mean an end is near to the tense standoff with Pyongyang.
"The prospects for the talks may not always be smooth. It will require diverse procedures and take a long time before the nuclear issue is completely resolved," Roh said in a National Assembly speech read by Prime Minister Han Myung-sook.
Roh denounced the North's nuclear test as a "foolish act" that brought nothing but "their own isolation with the intensified sanctions by the UN and countries around the world."
He also said Seoul would cooperate with the international community to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program, but stressed that those efforts shouldn't lead to a fresh conflict on the Korean peninsula.
Roh also said Seoul would continue two key economic projects with North Korea and won't cut dialogue with Pyongyang, which has been on hold since July.
The projects - an industrial complex in North Korea and a tourism venture to the North's Diamond Mountain - are prominent symbols of inter-Korean reconciliation, but have come under criticism over concern they may fund the North's missile and nuclear programs.