Japan's prime minister has warned that North Korea's offer of denuclearization talks with South Korea and the US could be designed to buy time. Beijing urged the US and the North to hold talks as soon as possible.
"I've repeatedly said that we have to create a situation of putting maximum pressure on North Korea so that the North wants to have talks with us," Abe said.
"However ... it is true that the North has in the past earned time to develop nuclear capabilities and missiles (during periods of negotiation).
"Talks for the sake of talks are meaningless and we should never loosen sanctions just because North Korea is open to talks."
Abe's comments were his first since the recent diplomatic breakthrough between the North and South and coincided with Pyongyang ally China urging the US and North Korea to hold talks "as soon as possible," in the words Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
US President Donald Trump said recently he was open to talks with the North.
Tokyo maintains hard line
Japan's position has not changed, Abe said, adding that there would be no dialogue with North Korea unless it takes steps toward the "complete, verifiable and irreversible" dismantlement of its nuclear program.
Japan, a longtime US ally in the region, has expressed concern in the past that Trump could settle for a policy compromise that places US homeland security above US security guarantees for Japan.
The fear in particular is that Pyongyang might be persuaded to give up developing its nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) capable of reaching the US mainland, but that the US might in return loosen its stance on shorter-range missiles that can reach Tokyo.
Pyongyang said on Thursday that it would halt development of its intercontinental ballistic missiles, but that this was dependent on the "US' attitude," South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.
Special envoys of South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week. Chosun reported that the North outlined conditions for halting the North's ICBM program, including establishment of US diplomatic relations and suspending Washington's deployment of strategic military assets in the South.
A South Korean envoy will brief Abe about his talks with the North when he visits Japan next week.
As two senior Seoul officials left for Washington to brief US officials on their recent visit to the North, Moon warned that many "critical moments" lie ahead before the crisis ends.
jbh/aw (AFP, Reuters, AP)