TOKYO The United States and its key Asian allies agreed on Thursday to push North Korea to take quick action to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, but they stopped short of thrashing out details to achieve their goal.
U.S, Japanese and South Korean envoys to six-party talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions gathered in Tokyo to discuss ways to advance the process of denuclearizing the reclusive communist state.
The meeting came after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington on Wednesday that North Korea would soon provide an overdue declaration of its nuclear programs.
"We all agreed on the need to advance the six-party process quickly," Japanese envoy Akitaka Saiki told reporters after holding talks with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts.
North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia are involved in the six-party talks. Under a 2005 multilateral agreement, North Korea promised to abandon all its nuclear programs in exchange for diplomatic and economic benefits.
But the agreement has been bogged down by Pyongyang's failure to produce a promised declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of last year, as a prelude to their being eventually dismantled.
"Obviously we are at a very important phase in the six-party process," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said.
Hill said the Unites States had not soften its stance on North Korea.
"The goal is complete denuclearization. The goal here is not just declaration," he said.
South Korea's nuclear envoy Kim Sook echoed the same view.
"It is crucial that North Korea submits a declaration and the declaration must be verified through a proper mechanism," Kim said.
The declaration has been held up partly because of Pyongyang's reluctance to discuss any transfer of nuclear technology to other countries. The United States accuses North Korea of helping Syria with a nuclear reactor project and says the facility was destroyed in an Israeli air strike in September.
Under a face-saving compromise, the declaration is expected to be split into two parts: North Korea's detailed disclosure of its plutonium program on the one hand and its "acknowledgment" of U.S. concerns about its suspected uranium enrichment and proliferation activities on the other.
(Reporting by Teruaki Ueno; Editing by David Fox)