Two key senior Senators in President Bush's Republican party have joined Democrats in calling for direct U.S.-North Korean talks aimed at easing global tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear program.
Richard Lugar, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said direct talks are, in his words, "inevitable if this standoff is to be resolved diplomatically."
Arlen Specter, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the issue is serious enough that the government should "use every alternative, including direct bilateral talks."
The senators spoke as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned from a four-nation tour of Asia aimed at gaining support for sanctions against Pyongyang for its nuclear test earlier this month.
Rice also issued a strong warning advising North Korea against any further nuclear tests.
In other developments, a Japanese news report says the Tokyo government is considering a plan to deploy Navy warships and surveillance aircraft to help allies enforce UN sanctions against North Korea.
Quoting from an outline of a government plan, the Yomiuri Shimbun daily says several destroyers and patrol aircraft would monitor ship traffic to and from North Korea.
The report said Japan would monitor the Tsushima Strait between its west coast and South Korea, and an area northwest of its southern island of Okinawa. Tokyo has not commented on the report.