US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in Seoul yesterday on curbing North Korea's nuclear programme, as the two Koreas locked horns at rare, high-level talks over looming South Korea-US military drills.
South Korea was Kerry's first stop on an Asia tour that will also take him to China and Indonesia, with a focus on regional tensions stoked by China's territorial claims.
"North Korea -- obviously the challenge with their nuclear programme -- remains an essential security issue," Kerry said as he met President Park Geun-Hye shortly after arriving.
As well as discussing efforts to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, Kerry will be briefed on a diplomatic initiative that saw the two Koreas sit down Wednesday for their highest-level official talks since 2007.
The discussions ran late into the night, and ended without any tangible agreement or joint statement.
But the two sides announced a second round would be held today in the border truce village of Panmunjom where the armistice ending the 1950-53 Korean War was signed 60 years ago.
Although the talks have no fixed agenda, the South is focused on ensuring that a planned reunion later this month for family members separated by the 1950-53 Korean War goes ahead as scheduled.
The February 20-25 event overlaps with the start of South Korea's annual joint military exercises with the United States, which Pyongyang has denounced as provocative.
In Beijing, Kerry will encourage China to "use its unique set of ties and leverage" to pressure Pyongyang to prove it is serious about wanting to restart the six-party process, a State Department official said.
His visit comes ahead of an Asia tour in April by President Barack Obama, which will take in Japan and South Korea.