The United States Monday reaffirmed its recognition of North Korea's sovereignty, and its readiness to deal directly with Pyongyang in the context of multi-lateral disarmament talks. North Korea appeared on Sunday to make such U.S. commitments a condition for its return to the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks.
Officials here say they have heard nothing through official channels about Sunday's North Korean statement, widely reported to be a softening of its position on returning to the six-party talks.
But they say they're more than ready to reiterate long-standing policy on U.S. recognition of the communist state, if that will help bring Pyongyang back to the negotiations.
In an interview with CNN in Moscow, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States, of course, recognizes North Korea as sovereign, and she cited repeated statements by top U.S. officials including President Bush that there is no intention to attack or invade that country.
Ms. Rice also noted the prospect of multilateral security assurances and energy aid for North Korea in the context of a disarmament accord, and said there is a lot for North Korea in these talks if it wishes to take advantage of the opportunity.
There were similar comments here from acting State Department spokesman Thomas Casey, who said the United States held face-to-face talks with North Korea during the first three rounds of the six-party talks, and is prepared to do so again if the negotiations resume, but not beforehand:
"Clearly the United States recognizes that North Korea is a sovereign nation," she said. "We've certainly talked with them, as you say, in the context of the six-party framework. So I don't think that there's anything particularly unusual about that. Again, what we want to see is having us go back to the six-party talks, and we'll be able to work through some of these other issues that way."
The six-party talks have been stalled since last June, when the United States presented its proposal, offering security assurances and the prospect of aid in return for a complete, verifiable end to North Korea's nuclear program.
The seemingly-conciliatory exchange of statements by Pyongyang and Washington came amid media reports North Korea might be preparing nuclear weapons test.
In the CNN interview, Secretary of State Rice said anything the North Koreans do to escalate the situation will only isolate them further, and is obviously not going to help their cause.
She said the best route for North Korea is to return to the six-party framework and dismantle its weapons program, as a way to join the international community and get benefits for its troubled economy.