The Stalinist state said it would return to six-nation nuclear crisis talks only after the United States met this demand.

"As the first step when we freeze our nuclear activity, the United Sates on its part must take reciprocal steps," a foreign ministry spokesman said through the North's official Korean Central News Agency, monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The spokesman demanded the United States should remove North Korea from a list of terrorism-sponsoring countries, lift "political, economic and military sanctions" and resume energy aid.

"It will totally depend on whether the first step proposed by our side would be agreed on for the six-party talks to resume," the spokesman added.

Washington, which has consistently demanded a verifiable end to North Korea's nuclear projects, is unlikely to be interested in the offer, according to analysts.

The North Korean demand came a day after a US-backed proposal for a resolution to the 14-month-old nuclear crisis was conveyed to Beijing to be passed on to Pyongyang for its consideration.

North Korea is included in an annual list produced by the US State Department, identifying nations considered to be backers of terrorism.

Others on the list are Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria. Iraq was removed from the list this year.

Investment

Removal from the blacklist would free North Korea from crippling US sanctions and open the possibility of access to much-needed aid investment from multilateral institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

"What is certain is ...
that under any circumstances, we will never freeze our nuclear activity for free without any return"

Spokesman, Korean Department of Foreign Affairs

The foreign ministry spokesman's statement added a new twist to efforts to bring North Korea to a new round of six-party talks, aimed at ending the crisis.

"What is certain is that under any circumstances, we will never freeze our nuclear activity for free without any return," the spokesman said.

The statement suggested that the latest US proposal had little chance of coaxing Pyongyang to new talks, at least for now.

"It is unimaginable that we disarm ourselves, believing in a meek promise by the US," the statement said, apparently referring to its often-stated demand for a written statement from the United States guaranteeing its security.

In recent weeks North Korea has been urging the United States to accept the principle of simultaneous action, as a framework for resolving the stand-off.