Washington's main envoy on North Korean issues says the North appears ready to get talking again about getting rid of nuclear weapons.
U.S. Envoy Stephen Bosworth is not disclosing any dates, but says he does expect North Korea will rejoin multinational talks aimed at ending its nuclear capabilities.
"We, the United States, and I think I can speak here for the Republic of Korea as well, are convinced that the six party talks will eventually resume... hopefully in the relatively near future," he said.
Bosworth spoke to reporters as he departed South Korea's main airport for Tokyo Friday. He has spent this week consulting with U.S. regional partners on ways to resume the nuclear talks.
North Korea conducted its second test of a nuclear weapon last May, drawing new international sanctions from the United Nations Security Council. Pyongyang said recently it wanted the sanctions lifted as a precondition for returning to the talks, which it has boycotted for more than two years. U.S. and South Korean leaders say they will not support the lifting of sanctions before a resumption of the talks.
Bosworth says there is "no higher priority" for the United States and its partners than getting rid of nuclear weapons in North Korea.
"But we also recognize that it will be important to begin discussions on questions regarding the peace treaty, establishment of diplomatic relations, and the issues of economic and energy assistance to North Korea," he said.
Earlier this year, North Korea demanded the start of permanent peace talks for the Korean peninsula. A 1953 armistice halted fighting three years after North Korea invaded the South, but no treaty has ever been signed.
In an unrelated matter, official North Korean media say Pyongyang is apparently questioning four South Korean citizens it has detained after entering the country from China. South Korean officials say they are using "all possible means" to investigate.