North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear weapons if President Barack Obama agrees to conditions imposed by the communist regime, including establishing formal diplomatic relations, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper said.
The Japan-based Choson Sinbo paper — considered a mouthpiece of Pyongyang — said in a story posted on its Web site hours before Obama's inauguration Tuesday that the North was waiting to see what position the new president would take on the nuclear standoff.
"It is too early to predict whether the Obama administration will endorse the North's nuclear possession or try to realize denuclearization through normalization of relations," the paper said. "But what is sure is that the North side is ready to deal with any choice by the enemy nation."
The paper is closely linked to Pyongyang and its articles are considered a reflection of the North's positions.
The U.S., South Korea, Japan, Russia and China have been trying for years to coax North Korea into giving up its atomic ambitions. Pyongyang agreed in 2007 to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid, but the process has been stalled since August.
Last week, the North's Foreign Ministry said it would give up its nuclear weapons only if Washington establishes diplomatic relations with the regime and the U.S. ceases to pose a nuclear threat to the North — an apparent reference to Pyongyang's long-standing claim that American nuclear weapons are hidden in South Korea. Both Seoul and Washington deny the accusation.
In its statement the ministry also rejected U.S. demands to verify its list of nuclear programs. The North wants verification to take place later in the disarmament process than the U.S. has requested.
The pro-Pyongyang paper said Tuesday that the North put forward conditions for its nuclear abandonment "ahead of the launch of the Obama administration," and it was now up to Washington to act. It appeared to be referring to last week's statement.
Despite signs the North might warm to Obama, the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper called the U.S. "bloodthirsty" Wednesday in a routine commentary that accused Washington of planning to invade.
Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency also briefly reported Obama's inauguration without giving any assessment of the new U.S. leader.
The North has ratcheted up tension on the peninsula in recent days, accusing the South of plotting war and warning it would respond to any South Korean aggression with "one strike" capable of annihilation.
Analysts say the North's saber rattling is a well-timed negotiating tactic aimed at getting the new president's attention.
Obama has said he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il if it helps the international process to disarm Pyongyang.