By Byun Duk-kun
HONOLULU, Feb. 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's relationship with South Korea and other countries is at a critical moment that can move in either direction resulting in confrontation or reconciliation, South Korea's top nuclear envoy said Wednesday, stressing the importance of direct engagement with North Korea.
Noh Kyu-duk also said he and his U.S. and Japanese counterparts will discuss ways to persuade North Korea to return to the dialogue table when they meet here on Thursday.
"I believe now is a very important time that will decide if we will return to the time of cold winter or a season of warm atmosphere as it is here," the South Korean diplomat told reporters after arriving in Hawaii for three-way talks with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim and Takehiro Funakoshi, respectively.
"That is why we have had various consultations between South Korea and the U.S., together with Japan, until now, and I am here with a hope that it will be another opportunity for us to work toward engagement (with North Korea)," added Noh.
The trilateral meeting between the top nuclear negotiators, to be held Thursday, follows a barrage of North Korean missile launches that included the firing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, the longest range missile launched by North Korea since late 2017.
In January alone, Pyongyang staged seven rounds of missile launches, marking the largest number of missile tests it conducted in any single month.
The nuclear envoys' meeting will be followed by three-way foreign ministerial talks here between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and their Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi.
Noh earlier said the countries will likely discuss Seoul's proposal to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War as a way to entice North Korea back to the dialogue table, calling it an "useful tool."
He hinted the countries may also consider other steps to lure Pyongyang back to dialogue when asked.
"I think it is too early for me to say anything as we still have yet to discuss any specifics," said Noh.
A spokesperson for the South Korean foreign ministry earlier said the three countries will hold in-depth discussions on "creative and various" ways to engage with North Korea when they meet here in Honolulu this week.
Pyongyang has avoided denuclearization negotiations since late 2019 while also evading all U.S. overtures for dialogue.
The three-way foreign ministerial meeting of South Korea, Japan and the U.S. will be held Saturday.
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