A senior State Department official says the United States will hold direct talks with North Korea about Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Washington would engage Pyongyang in direct dialogue:

"Of course we are going to have to have direct talks with the North Koreans," Mr. Armitage said.

His comments marked a reversal of the administration's stance late last year, when U.S. officials ruled out direct dialogue with North Korea, citing violations of Pyongyang's commitments not to develop nuclear weapons.

South Korea has been urging the United States to seek direct talks with the North, as have some U.S. lawmakers. "There is a need for direct talks between the United States and North Korea," said, Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Deputy Secretary of State Armitage said talks with Pyongyang would be part of an effort with other countries so that North Korea's weapons program would not be seen as a U.S. North Korean problem.

Pyongyang has demanded unconditional talks with Washington, along with a non-aggression pact.

Mr. Armitage ruled out such a treaty, saying there would be what he called a "zero chance" of the Senate ratifying such a document.

He also confirmed that the Defense Department is considering bolstering U.S. forces in the region.

"That is a prudent military planning procedure and as far as I know, nothing has moved forward," Mr. Armitage said.

Mr. Armitage said the Pentagon is considering reinforcements in the region to deter North Korean aggression in case of war in Iraq.