A former U.N. ambassador says North Korea is ready to negotiate directly with the United States about its nuclear weapons program, despite increased rhetoric from Pyongyang.

In an interview on the ABC television program This Week, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said the United States should not be put off by rhetoric from North Korea.

Mr. Richardson, who was U.N. ambassador during the Clinton Administration, said that during talks he hosted this week with North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, the North Koreans told him they did not plan to build nuclear weapons and would be willing to negotiate the verification of some nuclear weapons programs.

But Pyongyang appeared to change course Saturday, saying it might resume long-range missile tests.

Mr. Richardson said menacing statements from North Korea mask a desire to start dialogue. "They are being belligerent in preparation, I believe, for a negotiation. They always do that," he said.

Mr. Richardson had a history of contacts with North Korea during his time at the United Nations. He said he excepts the next step to be low-level U.N. discussions leading to more productive disarmament talks at a high level.

He added military action against North Korea should be a last resort because of the potential to destabilize the region.

Also appearing on This Week, Republican Senator John McCain agreed that the United Nations should first be called upon to help diffuse the situation. Mr. McCain was asked about the use of military force.

"I think it would be a mistake to rule out the use of military action today, although it must be the last option because of the threat that we face," he said.

The United States has said it would talk to North Korea about its nuclear weapons program, but not engage in negotiations with Pyongyang. The North Koreans have countered that the U.S. offer is not sincere.