South Korea open to talks with North amid nuclear crisis

image source, Reuters
image captionKang Kyung-wha said she was willing to speak to her counterpart from North Korea

South Korea says it may hold direct talks with the North during a regional meeting this weekend.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said she was willing to talk to her counterpart from Pyongyang, if the chance "naturally occurs".

North Korea's repeated missile and nuclear weapon tests have been condemned by neighbours in the region.

The United Nations security council is set to vote on fresh sanctions against the isolated state later on Saturday.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are meeting in Manila in the Philippines.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reports "cautious expectations" that Kang Kyung-wha would meet North Korea's Ri Yong-ho on the sidelines of the forum.

"If there is an opportunity that naturally occurs, we should talk," Ms Kang told the agency.

"I would like to deliver our desire for the North to stop its provocations and positively respond to our recent special offers (for talks) aimed at establishing a peace regime."

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will also be attending the weekend's talks, where North Korea's nuclear programme is expected to be a main topic.

As the meeting began, Asean members issued a joint statement saying they had "grave concerns" over North Korea's actions, which "seriously threaten peace".

Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, claiming it now had the ability to launch a strike against the entire US. However, experts doubt the capability of the missiles to hit their targets.

The tests were condemned by South Korea, Japan, and the US, and prompted the drafting of new UN sanctions.

media captionNorth Korea missile "seen from Japan"

China, North Korea's only international ally, has also criticised the tests. As a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, it has often protected Pyongyang from harmful resolutions.

Reports say, however, that it is likely to support Saturday's resolution banning North Korean exports and limiting investments.

The export of coal, ore and other raw materials to China is one of North Korea's few sources of cash. Estimates say that North Korea exports about $3bn worth of good each year - and the proposed sanctions could eliminate $1bn of that trade.

Earlier this year, China suspended imports of coal to increase pressure on Pyongyang.

Repeated sanctions have so far failed to deter North Korea from continuing with its missile development.

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