updated 6/1/2006 3:05:06 AM ET 2006-06-01T07:05:06

North Korea on Thursday invited the chief U.S. nuclear envoy to visit the communist nation if Washington proves its commitment to an agreement last year in which the North pledged to abandon its atomic weapons program.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill has previously expressed a desire to visit the North if it would help the arms negotiations, which have been stalled since last year.

“If the United States has made a political decision to truly carry out the joint declaration, (we) again invite the head U.S. delegate in the six-party talks to visit Pyongyang and directly explain (it) to us,” an unnamed spokesman for the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The joint declaration refers to a September agreement in which the North pledged to abandon its nuclear development for aid and security guarantees. No progress has since been made on implementing the pact, and the arms talks haven’t been held since November.

If the U.S. "is reluctant even to sit face to face with the other party while talking about resolving significant issues like the nuclear issue through talks, (it) won't be able to find any solution to the problem forever," the North said.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the North in October 2000 -- the highest-level American official ever to travel to the country. The two nations don't have diplomatic relations.

Pyongyang also repeated its call for a relaxation of U.S. financial restrictions as a condition for the country's return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.

"If the United States increases pressure while antagonizing us, we cannot but take super hardline steps to safeguard our right to survive and sovereignty," the North said.

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