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North Koreans maintain hard line

| Sunday, April 14, 2013, 9:15 p.m.

TOKYO — The United States and Japan opened the door on Sunday to nuclear talks with North Korea if the saber-rattling country lowered tensions and honored past agreements, even as it rejected South Korea's latest offer of dialogue as a “crafty trick.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said in Tokyo that North Korea would find “ready partners” in the United States if it began abandoning its nuclear program.

Japan's foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, also demanded a resolution to a dispute concerning Japanese citizens abducted decades ago by North Korean officials.

The diplomats seemed to point the way for a possible revival of the six-nation talks that have been suspended for four years.

China has long pushed for the process to resume without conditions. But the United States and allies South Korea and Japan fear rewarding North Korea for its belligerence and the endless repetition of a cycle of tensions and failed talks that have prolonged the crisis.

Kerry's message of openness to diplomacy was clear, however unlikely the chances appeared that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's government would meet the American's conditions.

“I'm not going to be so stuck in the mud that an opportunity to actually get something done is flagrantly wasted because of a kind of predetermined stubbornness,” Kerry told U.S.-based journalists.

“You have to keep your mind open. But fundamentally, the concept is they're going to have to show some kind of good faith here so we're not going to around and around in the same-old, same-old,” he said.

Tensions have run high on the Korean peninsula for months, with North Korea testing a nuclear device and its intercontinental ballistic missile technology.

The reclusive communist state has not stopped there. It has issued almost daily threats that have included possible nuclear strikes against the United States. Analysts and foreign officials say that is still beyond the North Koreans' capability.

While many threats have been dismissed as bluster, U.S. and South Korean officials say they believe the North in the coming days may test a midrange missile designed to reach as far as Guam, the U.S. territory in the Pacific where the Pentagon is deploying a land-based missile defense system.

Japan is the last stop on a 10-day trip overseas for Kerry, who visited Seoul and Beijing as well in recent days.

In South Korea, he strongly warned North Korea not to launch a missile and he reaffirmed U.S. defense of its allies in the region.

In China, he secured a public pledge from Beijing, the lone government with significant influence over North Korea, to rid the North of nuclear weapons.

Before flying back to the United States, Kerry told students on Monday at the Tokyo Institute of Technology that the important thing was staying united on North Korea. He was also to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

So far, Republican lawmakers in the United States have largely backed the Obama administration's efforts on North Korea.

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