North Korea said it wants to resume talks with the United States but that the conditions are not yet right. The comments come just as a U.S. special envoy on Korean affairs wraps up a trip to Seoul.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry official said that while it is necessary to resume a dialogue with the United States, the right environment has yet to be created. He did not offer details, except to say that factors stood in the way.
The comments were relayed through state media Thursday in Pyongyang.
Analysts view the North's cautious comments as an attempt to set the pace, not a backward shift. It also appears that the stance could be a reaction to a suggestion from U.S. special envoy Jack Pritchard, who just wrapped up a two-day trip to Seoul. He said he expected to soon meet North Korean diplomats in New York to arrange for a trip to Pyongyang.
"I suspect that North Korea is trying to find a way back into some form of negotiations with the United States, given the rather antipathetic attitude that the United States has taken toward North Korea, particularly the labeling of North Korea as part of an axis of evil," said Charles Goddard is an Asia analyst for The Economist Intelligence Unit in Hong Kong.
South Korean presidential envoy Lim Dong-won visited the North earlier this month. It was the the two states' first public contact in nearly six months. He says North Korean leader Kim Jong-il promised to allow the U.S. envoy to visit to help restart Washington-Pyongyang talks. Dialogue between the two has stalled since President Bush took office in January 2001.
Mr. Pritchard met with Mr. Lim in Seoul and discussed strategies for resolving U.S.-North Korea tensions over the communist state's nuclear and missile programs. Mr. Pritchard also reiterated the U.S. position that there must be adequate preparations before the timetable of his North Korea visit is finalized. South Korean officials do not expect it to take place until at late May at the earliest.
South Korea also said it will ship 200,000 tons of fertilizer to North Korea to help the impoverished nation's grain harvest. South Korean Unification Ministry officials say Seoul may send food aid to the North after an inter-Korean economic cooperation committee meeting slated for early May.
The two Koreas remain technically at war since the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.