Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Tokyo today for the last leg of his Asia trip, reiterating the Obama administration's pledge to seek a "peaceful resolution" on the Korean peninsula, amid increasing unease about North Korean provocations in the region.
Meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Kerry said the U.S. would not rule out direct talks with North Korea, but would only consider such a move if Pyongyang took steps towards denuclearization, and agreed to negotiate in a "responsible way."
"I think it's really unfortunate that the media and others have been so focused on the possibility of war when there's a possibility of peace," Kerry said. "We can find a way to resolve these differences at the negotiating table."
Kerry's visit to Japan comes as Pyongyang ramps up its rhetoric towards Tokyo.
On Friday, the regime singled out Japan as the potential first target in the event of a war on the Korean peninsula, in a scathing commentary that raised concerns in a country that does not have a combat military, but only self-defense forces.
On Sunday, Kishida said Japan was fully prepared for such contingencies, including a potential missile launch, but added that Tokyo would push forward with a "dialogue and pressure" policy.
"We must not be influenced by [these provocations]," Kishida said. "Instead we have to get North Korea to understand that such behavior will not benefit anybody whatsoever."
Fresh off meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, Kerry once again expressed confidence in Beijing's willingness to pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and to calm tensions on the peninsula.
In a joint statement Saturday, both Kerry and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi reaffirmed that the U.S. and China are committed to working on the denuclearization of North Korea.
Yang said China was committed to restarting stalled six-party talks and holding North Korea accountable to its international agreements.
"What happened yesterday should not be underestimated and it is not a small event," Kerry said. "What you have ... is a China that made it very clear that we can't simply have a rhetorical policy. I agree with China. Question is, what steps do you take to make sure we don't repeat the cycles of the last year."
In North Korea, festivities continued for the 101st birthday celebration of founder Kim Il Sung on Monday, with Pyongyang hosting an international marathon. But Pyongyang has not let up on its threats toward the outside world, and the government denounced South Korean President Park Geun-hye's offer of dialogue as a "cunning ploy" and an "empty shell."
"It is a cunning ploy to hide the South's confrontational policy towards the North and escape from its responsibility for putting Kaesong Industrial Complex into a crisis," said a statement read on North Korea's Central TV from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which is in charge of handling relations with South Korea.
Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint economic project using South Korean capital investment and the North's cheap labor, was recently shut down after North Korea pulled out its 53,000 workers in light of a series of tension building measures in the past few weeks.
Pyongyang has protested the ongoing U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which are scheduled to wrap up at the end of the month.
In an effort to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula, Park offered peace through dialogue Thursday, a surprise move that was welcomed by Kerry, who has repeatedly extended his support for bilateral talks, adding any missile launch would be a "huge mistake."
"I think she's shown great courage in her willingness to take [talks] in that direction, provided she has a willing partner," Kerry said in Tokyo.
Analysts have speculated that North Korea may launch a mid-range Musudan missile sometime before the April 15 celebration.
But on Sunday, South Korean local media questioned why the North's young leader Kim Jong-Un has not been seen in public over the past two weeks.
That's prompted further speculations, his absence may be a sign he "might be tempted to tone down fiery threats," though others say it may be a sign Kim is posturing for the launch.
His last public appearance was on April 1, at the annual rubber-stamp parliamentary meeting. Kim is widely expected to show up in the military parade in Pyongyang on Monday.