North Korea says it may be ready to talk again, but not in the six-nation format it has taken part in over the last five years. This time, Pyongyang says it will only talk with the United States. The United States is rejecting North Korea's offer to hold one-on-one talks on its nuclear weapons program.
A State Department spokesman said Monday that any bilateral meeting with the North can only be part of the six-party talks that include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea.
But North Korea has declared those talks dead.
North Korea took what some view as a small step back from confrontation Monday, offering the possibility of dialogue to ease tensions.
However, the statement from Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry reaffirmed the North's stance that six-nation talks on ending its nuclear programs are dead.
A North Korean news announcer speaks of "another method" of settling recent tensions.
That other method, says the North Korean statement, is a "specific and reserved" form of dialogue that would take place only between North Korea and the United States. Pyongyang says the six-nation format did not ensure "equality and respect," and instead sought only to "disarm and incapacitate" the North.
The dialogue offer is being seen, on one hand, as a step back from months of provocation by Pyongyang, including a long-range rocket launch and a second nuclear weapons test. Others see the North's rejection of the six-nation talks as a power play.
Yoon Duk-min, with Seoul's Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, says the six-party talks were basically five against one, and North Korea could not win in that format. So, he says North Korea wants a direct conversation with Washington in hope of obtaining the type of de facto recognition of nuclear weapons status that India and Pakistan enjoy.
The United States has stated repeatedly that it will never accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated that the multilateral framework was the only way to engage North Korea.
North Korea has asserted for years that its nuclear weapons program is a problem to be resolved only between itself and the United States. President Barak Obama, like his predecessor George W. Bush, maintains the nuclear issue is of vital concern to North Korea's neighbors - China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.
Lee Sang-hyun, an international security scholar at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, says North Korea needs to show more sincerity if it wants to talk with the United States.
Lee says North Korea needs to take some positive action rather than just issue statements. For example, he says, North Korea should take the initiative in inviting the U.S. to discuss two American journalists being detained in the North - an invitation Washington would find difficult to decline.