The United States, facing opposition to proposed UN sanctions against North Korea for this week's missile tests, said on Saturday it backed China's proposal for informal talks to re-engage the country.
China and Russia oppose a draft UN Security Council resolution by Japan to bar missile-related financial and technology transactions with North Korea because of the missile launches.
Instead the focus is shifting toward ways to re-start six-nation talks, stalled since late last year, aimed at persuading North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.
"The Chinese have talked about putting together a six-party informal. We both support that," the top US envoy for North Korea, Christopher Hill, told reporters in Seoul after a meeting with a South Korean official.
Hill was in China on Friday and flies to Japan on Sunday.
The six-party talks -- joining the two Koreas with Russia, China, Japan and the United States -- came to a stop last November after Washington cracked down on firms allegedly helping Pyongyang's activities such as counterfeiting.
But Hill said Washington was not about to make concessions to bring North Korea back to the table.
"This is not a time for so-called gestures of that kind," he replied when asked about unfreezing some North Korean assets in a Macau bank to help encourage North Korea back to the talks.
"The DPRK (North Korea) knows what they need to do. They need to come to the six-party process. They need to sit down in those talks and begin to implement the measures they agreed to implement back in September," Hill said.
A US Navy guided missile destroyer equipped with the Aegis combat weapon system arrived at the navy's Yokosuka base in Japan's Tokyo Bay on Saturday, and a US Navy spokeswoman said it would be permanently deployed there. The 9,200-ton USS Mustin can track and engage missiles.
Last September, North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapons and programs in return for, among other things, the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy and to normalized ties with Washington and Tokyo.
South Korea's top nuclear talks envoy, Chun Yung-woo, who met Hill, said the furor over the missiles -- which included one that could reach US soil -- might offer a chance to resume the six-party talks.
North Korea said that it had every right to test the missiles since it was still in a technical state of war. The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an inconclusive truce and no formal peace treaty was ever signed.
North Korea said it would consider sanctions against it a declaration of war. Much of its anger has been aimed at Japan for pushing for international sanctions.
Japan has also banned a North Korean ferry from entering its ports for six months as part of a package of initial sanctions.
"Our forces and people will definitely show our belief and power with a cruel, annihilating strike if enemies touch our dignified socialist system, even slightly," said an editorial in the official North Korean daily Rodong Sinmun. The editorial was quoted by Seoul's Yonhap news agency.
Japan insisted it would press on with the UN resolution.
"Japan will not compromise. It will be a resolution with punitive measures," Foreign Minister Taro Aso said on Saturday. "We will not back down from our resolution. We will stick it out until the very end."
Voting on Japan's UN Security Council resolution has been delayed until Monday but China and Russia have both made clear that they see diplomacy, not punishment, as the way to win over the country.
South Korea, like China fearful of further crisis, said it would hold ministerial talks with the North as scheduled next week. They would be the first high-level contact with Pyongyang since Wednesday's launch.
US President Bush said on Friday diplomacy on North Korea was "slow and cumbersome" and would take more time.
Bush, who previously said the United States would keep the military option open when it came to North Korea, refrained from repeating the phrase when asked about it during an hour-long news conference.