The announcement came after North Korea suspended six-party talks on Thursday and publicly admitted for the first time that it had nuclear weapons.

 

"There are plenty of opportunities for North Korea to speak directly with us in the context of the six-party talks," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan in Washington on Friday.

   

A North Korean diplomat at the United Nations in New York said: "If the United States wants to talk to us directly, it can be seen as a sign of a change in the US hostile policy toward North Korea."

   

McClellan insisted President George Bush will stick to the negotiating format in which the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia negotiate with North Korea. The US has repeatedly refused to enter direct negotiations with North Korea.

 

Stalled

   

The six parties have held three rounds of talks since August 2003 but the process has stalled.

   

"If the United States wants to talk to us directly, it can be seen as a sign of a change in the US hostile policy toward North Korea"

N Korean diplomat,
UN, New York

"All of North Korea's neighbours in the region recognise that this is a regional problem and it requires a multilateral approach for resolving it," McClellan said. "We believe the six-party talks, like North Korea's neighbours, are the way to resolve the situation."

   

He said that, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday: "North Korea should have no reason to believe that any nation wants to attack them, that there's a proposal on the table that provides the way forward for North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons programme and to realise better relations with the international community when they make that commitment."

 

A North Korean Foreign Ministry statement carried by the official KCNA news agency said the country would seek to strengthen its nuclear arsenal and accused the US of plotting to overthrow the government.