WASHINGTON DC?The United States will host high-level talks on Monday with allies South Korea and Japan to forge a strategy for dealing with a volatile nuclear-armed North Korea amid allied shows of military force.
The talks hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton follow North Korea's deadly bombardment of a South Korean border island on November 23, which triggered days of US-South Korean war games in the Yellow Sea.
Meanwhile, South Korea threatened to hit back with air strikes at the North if there is a new assault, and the largest ever US-Japan war games kicked off Friday in waters off the tense Korean peninsula.
The allied muscle-flexing and Clinton's planned talks with foreign ministers Kim Sung-hwan of South Korea and Seiji Maehara of Japan expose the isolation of China, which has taken a softer approach to reining in its ally in Pyongyang.
The United States, South Korea, and Japan all refused China's invitation for them and Russia to hold emergency six-party talks in Beijing after North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong island, killing two civilians and two marines.
The five countries, plus North Korea, make up the long-stalled six-party talks aimed at scrapping Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.
Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo oppose a return to the negotiations until Pyongyang shows it is serious about disarmament.
The Washington meeting is "sending a signal that the US is not prepared to go back to six-party talks at this point," said Alan Romberg, a former State Department spokesman who now heads the Stimson Center's East Asia program.
"Obviously we're consulting with China, but we are also putting some considerable emphasis on alliance consultations," said Romberg, who nonetheless said he did not think Monday's meeting is a snub to China.
During a visit to Kyrgyzstan on Thursday, Clinton held talks on North Korea with Russian and Chinese officials.
"I've already spoken to high-ranking Chinese and Russian officials and we will discuss how we can work together to try to avoid conflict," she said,
China complained on Thursday that it was being unfairly "criticized" for calling for dialogue to address the latest tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The State Department said Monday's "meeting demonstrates the extraordinarily close coordination" among Washington, Seoul and Tokyo and their "commitment to security on the Korean Peninsula and stability in the region."
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters that Monday's events would see Clinton meet with Kim at 11:15 a.m. (1615 GMT), then Maehara at 12:15 p.m. before all three gather for two hours of talks starting at 1:00 p.m. (1800 GMT).
A press conference will follow the trilateral meeting.
Romberg said he expected the allies to discuss the issue of "military exercises, movement of forces, displays of force" and "they probably will also want to consider how best to work together with China."
In Tokyo, Maehara said the three top diplomats will discuss North Korea's uranium enrichment and other developments related to its nuclear ambitions when they meet in Washington.
"The issue of uranium enrichment had not been discussed in the six-party talks, but that of course should be discussed at the forum," Maehara told reporters. "The uranium enrichment issue should never be let go."
He also hopes to discuss in Washington his idea that North Korea should accept inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after it showed off a new uranium reprocessing plant.
In November, a US scientist revealed he had been shown a new uranium enrichment plant equipped with at least 1,000 centrifuges at the North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex outside the capital Pyongyang.
The display sparked fears that North Korea, which has already carried out explosive tests of two plutonium nuclear devices, will have another avenue to build atomic bombs.
North Korea abandoned six-party talks on ending its nuclear drive in April 2009 after launching a long-range rocket?a move that earned UN condemnation and a new round of punitive sanctions.