The main US envoy to South Korea on Thursday urged all countries to implement UN sanctions against the North for its nuclear test, even after Pyongyang agreed to return to arms talks.
US Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said the UN Security Council resolution condemning the North's October 9 nuclear test "remains in force until North Korea complies with its terms -- that is, until North Korea denuclearises."
He didn't mention any country by name, but the North's two main trade partners, China and South Korea, have been reluctant to antagonise Pyongyang with harsh action for fear of upsetting regional stability.
Vershbow also praised Pyongyang for agreeing this week to return to six-nation arms talks, but said there was a "long way to go" before the crisis is resolved.
He called on the communist nation to abide by a September 2005 agreement in which it pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
Vershbow, who was speaking in a lecture to university students, also denied that the US harbours any ill will toward Pyongyang.
"It's simply not true for North Korea to state that our policies are hostile," he said.
The North has stayed away from the nuclear talks since November 2005, angered by US financial restrictions that have limited its access to the international financial system.
Vershbow also addressed coming changes to Washington's security alliance with South Korea, and plans for Seoul to maintain wartime command of its troops -- a role now held by the top US general in the South.
South Korea has requested it retain wartime control, as a symbol of its sovereignty, but there has been disagreement over how quickly to make the change.
The US has said it could transfer command by 2009, but the South has asked to wait until 2012.
Vershbow said Thursday that South Korea should assume its own wartime command "as soon as possible."
He also said Seoul should pay an equal share of the cost of keeping the US presence in the country, noting that the South has developed into one of the world's leading economies.
"The alliance will be stronger and it will be more popular if (South) Korea is an equal partner, and not a junior partner," Vershbow said.
"That's a much more healthy relationship than having the United States, 50 years after the Korean War, in a superior position."
About 29,500 US troops remain in the South as a legacy of the 1950-53 war, which ended in a ceasefire that has never been replaced by a peace treaty.