Japan is Kerry's final stop on a 10-day world trip that took him from Istanbul to Tokyo, with stops in the Middle East and London. Attempts to address seemingly intractable problems were a theme for Kerry, who is trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, speed the end of fighting in Syria and defuse the perennial threat of conflict with the Stalinist government of North Korea.
Diplomatic advances with China, North Korea's most important ally and underwriter, offer the promise of drawing the North back to talks that could rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons, Kerry said. The North has conducted three nuclear tests and is thought to be moving toward a full nuclear weapons capability. Its government has called nuclear weapons a fundamental part of its identity and vowed it will never give them up.
New talks would be aimed at giving the North a reason to reverse that stance. Diplomats in South Korea, China and Japan have pledged to explore the possibility despite a history of concessions to North Korea that have not stopped its nuclear development.
Of the three, South Korea sounded the most eager for negotiations, Japan the least. Both would be on the front lines of any conflict with North Korea, and Kerry repeated at each stop that the United States would defend its allies.
But the Associated Press reported Sunday that North Korea had rejected a proposal by the South to resolve rising tensions through dialogue, calling it a "crafty trick."
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who appeared with Kerry at a news conference, said North Korea must honor commitments made in previous negotiations to scale back its nuclear and missile program. Japan also insists on a restatement of North Korean intent to resolve cases of Japanese citizens allegedly abducted by the North.