The United States Thursday rejected a North Korean suggestion that a senior American envoy be sent to Pyongyang to discuss North Korea's nuclear program. The Bush administration said North Korea should instead end its holdout from the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on the issue.

The Bush administration says the United States is not going to negotiate the nuclear issue bilaterally with North Korea and that if Pyongyang wants to talk, it should return to the six-party negotiations, which have been idle since November.

The comments follow a statement carried by North Korea's news agency Thursday that Pyongyang would welcome a visit by senior U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill, if the United States has what was termed a true political intention to implement the statement of principles the six parties issued last September.

Under that framework, North Korea agreed in principle to dismantle its nuclear program in return for aid and security guarantees from the other participants in the talks, which include Russia, Japan and South Korea along with the United States, North Korea and host China.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the United States will not engage in bilateral negotiations with North Korea and stands by its insistence that North Korea rejoin the multi-lateral talks.

The State Department said there had been no North Korean invitation for a visit by Hill, the Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs, conveyed through diplomatic channels.

Acting department spokesman Tom Casey said the United States supports the September understanding and has always been ready to engage North Korea directly, but in the framework of the six-party negotiations:

"I don't think the issue here is really direct talks between the United States and North Korea," said Mr. Casey.  "We have direct talks with the North Koreans in the context of the six-party talks, but the issue really here is North Korea's commitment to the September agreement, which all parties agreed was the way to move forward on this. And what we're looking for is for North Korea is to demonstrate its commitment to that agreement by coming back to the six-party talks so that we can implement it."

North Korea has boycotted the six party talks since last November, citing financial sanctions the United States imposed against several North Korean entities and a Macau-based bank allegedly involved in illegal activity, including money-laundering and counterfeiting U.S. currency.

The United States insists that the sanctions, imposed under the anti-terrorist Patriot Act of 2001, are in legitimate defense of U.S. interests and unrelated to the nuclear talks.

At the same time, officials say North Korea is free to raise the sanctions issue or any other matter of concern in contacts with the U.S. delegation on the sidelines of the six-party discussions.

Thursday's North Korean statement made no specific mention of the sanctions, but it said the United States should create the proper conditions and climate for North Korea to return to the negotiations, free from any pressure.