John Kerry ruled out "artificial talks" with North Korea yesterday, saying that only "real steps" towards disarmament could defuse the crisis in East Asia.
The US secretary of state signalled his reluctance to reopen negotiations with North Korea after weeks of inflammatory rhetoric and open threats of war.
The aim of North Korea's belligerence could be to cajole America and South Korea back to the negotiating table in order to extract concessions in return for promises of good behaviour.
But North Korea has made and broken agreements of that kind in the past. In both 2005 and 2007, the regime agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in return for economic aid. America and South Korea duly supplied the aid, but the North responded by carrying out nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
Mr Kerry made clear his unwillingness to repeat the experience. "I think we are clear that we do not want to go into another round of artificial talks that are clearly calculated to try to play a game," he said. "We cannot continue this charade and we cannot have a policy of rhetoric about denuclearisation. There have to be real steps here."
Mr Kerry, who visited Beijing last week, said China was losing patience with its historic ally, noting a "very powerful statement" which "chastised the North for its provocations". This was a reference to President Xi Jinping's warning on April 7 that "no one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains".
The secretary of state's remarks coincided with the 101st anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea. The country celebrated the "Day of the Sun" with public festivities.
Experts had forecast that North Korea might also mark the occasion with a missile test. But there was no sign of this happening. Instead, Kim Jong-un, North Korea's new leader and a grandson of Kim Il-sung, made his first public appearance in a fortnight, visiting his grandfather's tomb in Pyongyang. (© Daily Telegraph, London)