Nightly News   |  April 14, 2013

Kerry opens door to negotiations with N. Korea

Secretary of State John Kerry opened the door to direct disarmament talks with North Korea, but there is still no sign Kim Jong Un is prepared to stop testing nuclear weapons. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> messages coming out of north korea tonight where it is already monday morning and the start of that country's most important holiday -- the anniversary of its founding, which is why western intelligence analysts have monday circled on their calendars as the most likely time for north korea to back up some of its recent inflammatory rhetoric with a test launch of its most powerful missile. tonight secretary of state john kerry remains in the region still working the diplomatic options, but vowing once again that the u.s. will protect its allies. nbc's chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell is traveling with the secretary in japan and joins us now from tokyo . andrea?

>> reporter: good evening, lester. john kerry has now opened the door to direct u.s. peace talks with north korea , appealing for a step back from the threat of war, even as though the north has flatly rejected south korea 's offer of direct talks with them calling it a "cunning ploy." the contrast could not have been more dramatic. in pyongyang , runners from around the world celebrating tomorrow's birthday of kim jong -un's grandfather, the nation's founder. while in tokyo john kerry re-assured japan the u.s. will defend it from north korea , but says the obama administration would negotiate with pyongyang under the right circumstances.

>> what we really ought to be talking about is the possibilities of peace and i think there are those possibilities, notwithstanding the rhetoric and the provocations.

>> reporter: japan was under the flight path of north korea 's last missile test in february and is now protected by u.s.-provided patriot missile defenses. but kerry found strong support for luring pyongyang back to disarmament talks.

>> the united states will do what is necessary to protect our e allies, japan , republic of korea , and the region against these provocations, but our choice is to negotiate. our choice is to move to the table and find a way for the region to have peace.

>> reporter: but north korea immediately rejected an offer friday from south korea for talks. kim jong -un has shown he's more interested in flamboyant guests like dennis rodman than serious diplomacy. but his ferth negotiated with then-secretary of state madelyn albright in 2000 and released two american journalists to bill clinton in 2009 . and his grandfather reached a nuclear agreement with former president jimmy carter for the clinton white house . critics warned today that north korea has broken every past promise to disarm.

>> this has been going on for decades. a cycle of confrontation, negotiation, aid and the false hope that somehow the north koreans would give up their efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and a means to deliver them.

>> reporter: still, as kerry took a few moments to visit a 14th century buddhist temple in downtown tokyo and meet some local residents. ah! some experts believe there is a peaceful path out of this crisis.

>> i think kim jong -un has basically run out of bluster. we're clearly in the end game now. maybe they'll end with a fireworks display. maybe just with a whimper but i think he's going back in his pocket.

>> kim has not been seen publicly for two weeks. as kerry wraps up this six-nation tour, there is no sign that north korea is ready yet to stop nuclear testing or threatening its neighbors, two things it has to do before there could be direct talks with the u.s. lester?

>> nbc's andrea mitchell in tokyo for us, thank you.