NBC News and news services
updated 5/19/2005 6:31:23 PM ET 2005-05-19T22:31:23

U.S. officials met with North Korean officials in New York last week, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Thursday, in an apparent effort to draw the volatile nation back into six-nation nuclear talks.

Also Thursday, U.S. officials reported the massive movement of more than 1,000 North Korean military trucks and conventional weapons around the capital city Pyongyang, NBC News said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there appeared to be no immediate cause for alarm because the huge convoys, which included large numbers of artillery, remained in the Pyongyang area with no indication they were headed south toward South Korea.

Meeting amid growing concern
The meeting last week, reportedly held at the North Korean representative office at the United Nations, came as concerns mount that the reclusive regime is moving toward extracting weapons-grade plutonium and could be preparing for a nuclear test.

“We can confirm that we had working-level contact with North Korean officials on Friday, May 13, in New York,” State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside said. “This channel is used to convey messages about U.S. policy, not to negotiate.”

Kyodo News agency, citing anonymous sources, reported that the North said in the meeting it would respond to the discussions in two weeks.

Late Thursday, North Korea rejected Washington’s recognition of its sovereignty earlier this month, calling it a “lie” to conceal a plan to topple its government.

Pyongyang: Nukes protect 'dignity, security'
“It was clear (the Bush administration) is trying to ignite a fire of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted an unidentified spokesman at the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Fatherland as saying.

“It is very natural for us to strengthen self-defensive nuclear deterrence to protect our people’s dignity and security.”

The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are trying to persuade North Korea to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons programs. The talks have been stalled since June, and North Korea has boycotted efforts to arrange a new session.

But the North said Thursday after a two-day meeting with South Korea that it was willing to return to the stalled talks.

“Our position is also to peacefully resolve the nuclear issue,” Kim Man Gil, head of North Korea’s delegation, said after the talks in the North border town of Kaesong. “We are also willing to return to the six-nation talks. It’s just that the United States should make the conditions and atmosphere.”

No progress in North-South talks
The two Koreas concluded their first face-to-face talks in 10 months Thursday without making any progress on the nuclear impasse, although they did agree to hold Cabinet-level meetings next month at which the issue likely will be revisited.

The last time U.S. officials had contact with North Korean officials appeared to be a January congressional delegation to Pyongyang led by Rep. Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Weldon, R-Pa., said after that trip that North Korea appeared ready to negotiate “in a matter of weeks.”

The Bush administration earlier this month offered a couple of carrots to the North — direct talks and recognition of its sovereignty — in a bid to derail its nuclear weapons program.

But Washington has also talked tough with Pyongyang, saying that a nuclear test would be punished, and that the U.S. had not ruled out bringing the case before the U.N. Security Council for consideration of sanctions.

The Boston Globe reported Thursday that last week’s meeting was attended by Joseph DiTrani, the U.S. special envoy to the six-nation nuclear talks, and Jim Foster, the head of the State Department’s Office of Korean Affairs.

No plan to attack
Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported in its Thursday evening edition that senior U.S. State Department officials told North Korean officials in the meeting that Washington recognizes North Korea as a sovereign nation under the leadership of Kim Jong Il.

The U.S. officials also told the North Korean side that the Bush administration does not intend to attack North Korea, Asahi said.

The report said the meeting took place at North Korea’s representative office at the United Nations.

NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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