A senior US diplomat has urged North Korea to return to the negotiating table immediately to complete stalled nuclear talks.
The US special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun added that Washington would not accept an end of year deadline set by Pyongyang to make concessions in the negotiations.
He said: “On this point, let me be absolutely clear: The United States does not have a deadline. We are fully aware of the strong potential for North Korea to conduct a major provocation in the days ahead.
“To say the least, such an action will be most unhelpful in achieving lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Mr Biegun, who was in Seoul for talks with South Korean officials, called on North Korea to sit down for talks.
He said: “Let me speak directly to our counterparts in North Korea: It is time for us to do our jobs. Let’s get this done. We are here. And you know how to reach us.”
Mr Biegun later held separate meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and unification minister Kim Yeon-chul. Mr Moon’s office said that during his visit to the presidential Blue House, Mr Biegun said the US government administration would not give up on seeking diplomatic progress with North Korea.
Senior North Korean officials have recently said denuclearisation is already off the negotiating table and have threatened to lift a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests. In past months, North Korea has also conducted a slew of short-range missile and other weapons tests.
Worries about a major North Korean provocation grew after the country said it had successfully performed an unspecified “crucial test” that will strengthen its nuclear deterrent.
Experts say North Korea could launch a satellite-carrying rocket or an intercontinental ballistic missile if the US fails to meet its deadline.
Friday’s test was the second in a week at a rocket facility where North Korea has conducted missile-engine tests and launched satellites in what the UN called cover for testing its long-range missile technology.
North Korea’s military chief, Pak Jong Chon, asserted that the North has built up “tremendous power” and that the findings from the recent tests would be used to develop new weapons to allow the country to “definitely and reliably” counter US nuclear threats.
The test-flight of an ICBM would be likely to completely derail diplomatic efforts as US President Donald Trump has viewed the North Korean weapons test moratorium as a major foreign policy achievement.
Mr Biegun called the latest North Korean statements “so hostile and negative and so unnecessary”. He said they do not reflect the spirit and content of the discussions the two countries have had since North Korea entered talks with the US last year.
He said the United States has offered “any number of creative ways to proceed with feasible steps and flexibility in our negotiations to reach balanced agreements that meet the objectives of both sides”.