updated 7/1/2005 9:44:09 PM ET 2005-07-02T01:44:09

North Korea told the United States that it must withdraw its description of the communist nation as an “outpost of tyranny” and treat Pyongyang as a friend if it wants nuclear talks to resume, a senior North Korean official said Friday.

North Korea’s director general of North American affairs, Li Gun, told reporters after a two-day conference on northeast Asian security that the next step is up to the Americans.

Speaking in English, Li said, “We told them (the U.S.) to just withdraw the words ‘outpost of tyranny.’ We demand it.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called North Korea one of the world’s “outposts of tyranny” during her confirmation hearings in January. She defended the characterization last month, telling Pyongyang if it wants economic help it must give up its nuclear weapons and return to the six-party talks.

Contact but no negotiations
The State Department confirmed that Joseph De Trani, the top U.S. official to the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and James Foster, who is in charge of the department’s office of Korean affairs, resumed contact with the North Koreans at the conference.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said there were no negotiations between the two sides at the closed meeting.

“We are still waiting to hear from North Korea a date when they will return to the six-party talks and engage in those talks in a constructive manner,” he said.

De Trani told reporters it was a good meeting but would not elaborate.

Speaking in Korean, Li said the two sides exchanged positions and that he told the Americans “the United States has to treat us friendly, not as enemy, if they want us to take part in the six-party talks.”

Li said it wasn’t the right time to talk about when the talks would reopen.

“We have to watch the Americans, what kind of steps the Americans take,” he said.

Li’s remarks in Korean were translated by the correspondent for South Korea’s main daily newspaper, Chosun Ilbo.

‘The U.S. must create some justification’
Later, Li told the correspondent for the Japanese daily, Tokyo Shinbun, that the conference was useful.

“We are ready for resuming the six-party talks, and we told them that,” he said in English. “The U.S. must create some justification to enter into the six-party talks.”

“We never deny or oppose to six-party talks. Our position is that once they give us justification, we can enter any time into six-party talks,” Li said.

“I think they heard our voices, and it’s up to them. We will see it,” he said.

The multilateral talks — involving North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia — have been stalled since June 2004. Since then, North Korea declared it has nuclear weapons, claiming they are a deterrent against a possible attack by the United States.

The State Department announced North Korea’s agreement to resume talks on June 6 following a meeting in New York between De Trani, Foster and senior North Korean diplomats, but no date has been set.

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