"We paid attention to the direct dialogue held by the DPRK [North Korea] and the US in a bid to settle knotty problems in resolving the nuclear issue," the official KCNA news agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.

   

Hill and Kim Kye-Gwan, North Korea's deputy foreign minister, had given no sign of a breakthrough after their discussions in the German capital.

   

But the US envoy also said after briefing South Korean officials on Friday that he and Kim had agreed they were ready return to the six-way talks soon.

 

Arms development

   

North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States participate in the talks, which began in 2003 and are aimed at persuading the impoverished country to scrap its nuclear arms development for financial support and security guarantees.

   

The last round of six-party talks, in December - which took place just two months after the North conducted its first nuclear test, triggering UN sanctions - ended inconclusively.

   

Hill and the South Korean envoy Chun Yung-woo said they hoped the next round of the talks would start before February 18, though the specific dates would be worked out after they separately meet with China, host of the talks.

  

Hill will travel to Tokyo and then Beijing this weekend.

   

The US envoy also said there was a tentative date for separate talks on a US crackdown on reclusive North Korea's external financing.