North Korea said Sunday it was confused by U.S. policy toward the reclusive communist state, but did not rule out returning to six-nation negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.
The cryptic statement appeared to be a potentially positive development, considering the fairly diplomatic tone that contrasted with the North's recent vitriolic rhetoric against the United States, accusing the Bush administration of plotting to attack to overthrow its government.
Citing differences between Washington's public and private statements, North's official Korean Central News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry s spokesman as saying Pyongyang "will continue to closely watch the U.S. side's attitude, and when the time comes we will officially deliver to the U.S. side our position through the New York contacts."
The spokesman reaffirmed North Korea's commitment "to peacefully resolve the issue through dialogue and negotiations."
"We have shown utmost patience until now for the talks to succeed," he said.
The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.
Seeking to resume talks
The statement, monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, comes amid a flurry of efforts to get North Korea back to the nuclear bargaining table following its announcement two weeks ago that it has removed 8,000 fuel rods from a reactor, a step toward extracting weapons-grade plutonium.
The State Department sent envoys to Pyongyang's office at the U.N. on May 13. It said the meeting did not include negotiations and only involved restating Washington's position on nuclear non-proliferation within the context of the six-party talks that have been stalled since last June.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said U.S. officials reaffirmed recognition of the North's sovereignty and said it would not attack. But the spokesman complained that some U.S. administration officials were still making remarks that "threaten" his country.
"If the United States sincerely wants to resolve the issue through the six-party talks, it should move in the direction to actually make conditions and atmosphere so that the talks can open," the spokesman said.
The North Korean spokesman said various remarks by U.S. officials only "confuse" what the U.S. position is when it is "cautiously considering" the U.S. position.
The North has demanded that the United States end its "hostile policy" and apologize for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling it an "outpost of tyranny" in January.
Rice said earlier this month that "the United States, of course, recognizes that North Korea is sovereign." But Washington's chief envoy on North Korea, Christopher Hill, said during a visit to Seoul last week that a nuclear test by Pyongyang would provoke unspecified action.
Japanese officials have indicated a nuclear test would spark them to seek U.N. sanctions, which the North has called tantamount to a declaration of war.
Last week, the North and South held their first face-to-face talks in 10 months. While South Korean officials were unable to convince the North to include some mention of the nuclear issue in a final joint statement, Pyongyang did agree to work toward peace on the Korean Peninsula and set a date for a followup Cabinet-level meeting next month.
The North may be driven by a critical need for aid.
A North Korean cargo ship arrived in South Korea on Sunday to pick up fertilizer for the impoverished country -- the first such vessel from the isolated communist regime to dock here in 21 years.
The North Korean ship traveled to the southeastern port of Ulsan after Seoul last week agreed during their bilateral talks to give 200,000 tons of fertilizer to the North.
South Korea began shipping the fertilizer Saturday when trucks crossed the heavily militarized border separating the two Koreas. Officials said the shipments will be completed by June.
North Korea has been dependent on outside aid since the 1990s, when more than 1 million people are estimated to have died from famine there.