North Korea says it is willing to start a dialogue with the United States only if Washington recognizes its political system. This is a slight change in Pyongyang's position a few weeks ago.

The official Korean Central News Agency says President Bush's administration must recognize Pyongyang's political system before the two sides can resume talks.

The news agency noted Pyongyang can not allow itself to abandon its communist system or be disarmed by the United States.

This is the first time North Korea has set out some conditions for re-starting dialogue, since President Bush in January labeled Pyongyang as part of an "axis of evil" states that sponsor or promote terrorism.

But the Central News Agency made clear that its position stated Tuesday is not necessarily a prelude to talks.

North Korea also said the Bush administration should return to the policies of the previous Clinton government if progress is to be made.

The Clinton administration negotiated agreements to with North Korea to suspend its nuclear weapons program. By 2000, relations between Washington and Pyongyang had thawed enough that the U.S. secretary of state visited North Korea.

Mr. Bush has been much more critical of North Korea. In a trip to Asia last month, he called Pyongyang a despotic regime intent on starving its people and developing weapons of mass destruction.

Despite the harsh rhetoric, the president has offered since last year to negotiate with North Korea unconditionally. He offered to include talking about North Korea's top complaint, namely the presence of 3,700 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to thwart any potential threats from the North.

The United States is closely allied with South Korea. The two Koreas have been separated since 1945, and the border dividing them is one of the world's most heavily armed zones. In the early 1950's, the United States fought alongside South Korea against the North in the Korean War.