The United States signaled further interest Monday in talks about North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions, saying it hoped to hold "technical" discussions with the communist nation.
But White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer repeated that Washington would not give in to "blackmail" and that North Korea would have to roll back recent efforts to restart its nuclear program.
An official from the North, meanwhile, hinted that his country, under certain circumstances, could reverse its decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
In Moscow, North Korean Ambassador Pak Ui Chun said, "In part, the International Atomic Energy Agency must stop behaving like a maidservant and marionette of the United States," according to a translation by the state-run TV channel Rossiya.
Fleischer's comments were a sign of increasing U.S. interest in talks, but he said North Korea was "going around in circles" and had not responded.
He also reiterated a U.S. offer, voiced Monday in Seoul by Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly, to consider renewing energy aid for North Korea once the standoff was resolved.
Kelly met with South Korean presidential advisor Lim Dong Won today and repeated calls for a peaceful resolution of the dispute, Yonhap news agency reported.
U.S. officials had previously said they would not reward North Korea for abandoning its nuclear programs and that discussions could only follow steps to dismantle those programs.
But the White House denied Monday that it was rewarding North Korea's latest defiance.
Fleischer said the offer was in line with a joint statement by South Korea, the United States and Japan last week, which held out the prospect of improved relations with North Korea if it eliminated its nuclear weapons program.
"The United States is willing to talk, not negotiate," Fleischer said Monday. "North Korea wants to take the world through its blackmail playbook, but we won't play."
In October, the United States said the North had admitted to having an atomic weapons program in violation of a 1994 accord. Pyongyang denied Sunday that it ever made such a statement.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who held three days of unofficial talks with North Korean representatives last week, urged low-level, "technical" talks through U.N. channels with North Korea as a prelude to higher-level discussions. Such talks would probably cover issues such as verification of compliance with nuclear safeguards.
Asked whether there would be any such technical talks, Fleischer told reporters: "We hope so. The United States has said that we're willing to talk."