WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed Thursday to start working out new common strategic goals to deepen the security alliance amid a challenging environment in East Asia.

During talks at the State Department, Maehara and Clinton agreed that North Korea must cease its provocative actions and take concrete steps to abandon its nuclear arms program before dialogue with Washington can be held or the six-party talks on denuclearizing Pyongyang can resume.

Clinton said she and Maehara agreed to hold the so-called two-plus-two meeting involving the defense and foreign ministers of both sides “in the coming months.”

“The United States and Japan will also enhance cooperation on the full range of global and strategic issues, from nuclear proliferation to maritime security, and from global economic recovery and growth to energy security and climate change,” she said in a statement.

But a Japanese official said that while the two countries will explore the appropriate timing for the meeting, it remains unclear whether it will take place ahead of Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s trip to the United States slated for the spring.

On North Korea, while noting that dialogue between Pyongyang and Seoul should take place first, Maehara told a joint news conference that “if North Korea takes concrete steps, there is no reason for us to reject the reopening of the six-party talks as China has proposed.”

Echoing his view, Clinton said, “We are determined to move forward, to end the provocative behavior, and to once again focus on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Maehara and Clinton agreed that China needs to play an important role on the peninsula and to ask Beijing to do more to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff. The denuclearization talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. have been stalled since December 2008.

On bilateral relations, they agreed to accelerate consultations on deepening the security alliance to pave the way for Kan’s U.S. visit, when he and President Barack Obama will release a joint statement on the alliance.

Maehara and Clinton reaffirmed the two governments will continue to seek the relocation of the Futenma airfield within Okinawa.

Maehara noted the need to reduce the base-hosting burden on Okinawa’s residents in a reference to the importance of gaining local acceptance of the Futenma move, the Japanese official said.

“The United States is firmly committed to our alliance with Japan, and we continue to work on the full range of significant issues that are part of this bedrock security alliance, and of course Futenma is part of that,” Clinton said.

During the news conference, Maehara stressed his close communication with Clinton, noting the two have met four times since he became foreign minister about four months ago.

Among other issues, they agreed to continue cooperating on securing stable supplies of strategic materials such as rare earth minerals.

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