HANOI, Vietnam - Envoys meeting on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic summit, tried Wednesday to cobble together a united strategy for upcoming talks aimed at convincing North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program.
While six-party talks on North Korea stalled last year after the United States imposed economic sanctions on Pyongyang, diplomats said they were focused on renewing negotiations in the wake of the communist country's Oct. 9 nuclear test.
"No one - China, nor Russia nor any of the three of us - has any intention of accepting North Korea as a nuclear state. I think we've all made that very clear," U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said after meeting for two hours with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
The U.S., Japan, China, Russia and both Koreas comprise the six-nation negotiating group, which may resume talks next month. North Korea indicated on Oct. 31 it wanted to return to negotiations following an international outcry over its nuclear test.
It is seen as crucial that negotiators reach as much consensus as possible before they sit down with the North Koreans, who are expected to seek major concessions in the form of aid and security guarantees.
Chun Yung-woo, Seoul's nuclear envoy, said Tuesday that the North shouldn't expect a reward just for returning to the talks. He also indicated the urgency felt in the wake of the North's nuclear test.
"We cannot afford to fail this time," said Chun, in some of his strongest comments to date. "If we do not make substantial progress, the future for the six-party talks will be very unclear. There should not be talks for the sake of talks."
The U.S. and Tokyo want to punish the North with sanctions, while South Korea and China - the North's closest ally - prefer a softer approach.
Seoul, which wants closer ties with the North, said Monday it will not fully participate in a U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative that is largely aimed at stopping North Korean weapons traffic at sea. The South insists it is already doing enough to prevent the North's proliferation.
Hill said that in meetings with Japanese and South Korean officials Tuesday and Wednesday, there were "in-depth, substantive discussions on what outcome we should try to achieve in the next round of the six-party talks."
But Chun said no new proposals were made.
"We just focused on what substantive outcome we should achieve to keep the process going," he said.
Chun said that several dates were suggested for the talks to resume next month in Beijing, and that officials would present them to China to see which works best.
Washington has agreed to discuss the financial sanctions it imposed last year directly with the North Koreans.
The U.S. insists the measures - imposed in response to the North's alleged counterfeiting and money-laundering - are a law enforcement measure, indicating the difficulty there will likely be in reaching a breakthrough at the six-party talks.
The North Korea issue is threatening to overshadow the economic issues that are supposed to be the focus of this week's annual 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified diplomatic source in Hanoi, reported that APEC foreign ministers would hold an unofficial meeting Friday to discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons program.