WASHINGTON — The Obama administration confronted two of its most intractable foreign policy issues Monday, seeking ways to contain rising tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea and, separately, pressing Iran to halt a uranium-enrichment program suspected of being part of a secret nuclear weapons program.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts at a meeting in Washington not to resume long-stalled nuclear negotiations with North Korea until its Stalinist regime ends "provocative and belligerent behavior."
In Geneva, a top U.S. diplomat joined representatives of the European Union, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China for their first talks with Iran in more than a year.
The Korean crisis and Iran's defiance of United Nations demands to suspend uranium enrichment represent the most serious challenges facing President Barack Obama's effort to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.
The Korean standoff threatened to worsen with an announcement Monday that the International Criminal Court's prosecutor could launch an investigation into possible war crimes by North Korea in the shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island in November and the sinking of a South Korean warship last March.
In Washington, the Pentagon announced that Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would depart for South Korea to reiterate U.S. military support for Seoul. He then is to visit Japan.
Clinton said that she, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and his South Korean counterpart, Kim Sung-hwan, agreed not to resume talks with North Korea on ending its nuclear program in exchange for aid and other benefits until it ended behavior that "jeopardizes peace and stability in Asia."
"They need to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose in ending their provocations and let the world know they are now ready to come to the table and fulfill the commitments they have already made," Clinton said.
China, the chief supplier of food and energy to the deeply impoverished nation, called for emergency talks after North Korea's Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. But it declined to issue a public condemnation and wasn't invited to send a representative to the meeting in Washington.
In Geneva, Iran agreed to discuss international concerns that it's enriching uranium for weapons, contrary to earlier refusals.