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(LEAD) U.S., Japan back Seoul's efforts for inter-Korean talks: envoy

All Headlines 17:25 January 28, 2015

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead, dateline; ADDS more remarks throughout)

TOKYO/SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- The United States and Japan expressed strong support for South Korea's efforts to coax North Korea to come forward for dialogue, Seoul's top nuclear envoy said Wednesday.

Hwang Joon-kook met with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim and Junichi Ihara, in a trilateral meeting in Tokyo earlier in the day to discuss ways to resume the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization.

"The U.S. and Japan expressed strong support for Seoul's efforts to mend its ties with Pyongyang and to seek inter-Korean dialogue," Hwang told a group of reporters in Tokyo, disclosing that his itinerary also includes bilateral meetings with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts.

The trilateral meeting came amid growing concerns that there might be a gap between Seoul and Washington in dealing with North Korea. Washington imposed fresh sanctions on Pyongyang early this month for its alleged hacking of Sony Pictures over a comedy film revolving around a plot to kill its leader Kim Jong-un.

While Washington has taken a tougher stance on the North, South Korea is awaiting a response from North Korea for its proposal to have high-level talks.

Hwang dismissed the view that Seoul and Washington are not on the same page, saying it is a misunderstanding to believe that Washington has shut its door for dialogue with the North.

"The U.S. is seeking a two-track strategy of pressure and dialogue. Under this context, the U.S. is actively supportive of Seoul's initiative," he said.

The six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs -- involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia -- have been dormant since late 2008, when Pyongyang walked away from the bargaining table.

Pyongyang has called for the resumption of the six-party talks without preconditions following its third nuclear test in February 2013. But Seoul and Washington have insisted that the North should first show its sincere commitment toward denuclearization.

The U.S. nuke envoy, Kim, reiterated that Washington will not rush back into any negotiation until the North shows its willingness to abandon nuclear weapons in a "concrete manner."

"We are not rushing back to negotiations because we want to make sure that there should be adequate preparation and adequate demonstration of commitment by North Korea toward denuclearization," Kim told reporters in Tokyo, saying that the North has not shown such signs so far.

Hwang also echoed such a view, saying there should be "strong signs" showing that North Korea is serious about denuclearization for the resumption of the six-party talks.

"Seoul will closely coordinate with the other four parties over specific conditions to break the current deadlock of the denuclearization talks," he added.

The North offered on Jan. 10 to temporarily halt nuclear tests if the U.S. suspends its annual military exercises with South Korea this year, a proposal flatly rejected by Seoul and Washington.

Hwang said that the North's proposal is not appropriate as a nuclear test, a clear violation of international obligations, is not an issue that can be bartered for the suspension of the defensive military drill.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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