North Korea said on Tuesday it was ready to return to international negotiations on its weapons program but first wanted talks with Washington.
Pyongyang made the offer during a high profile visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, largely repeating its long-held contention that the United States is central to any decision to abandon its attempt to become a nuclear weapons power.
"The hostile relations between the DPRK (North Korea) and the United States should be converted into peaceful ties through the bilateral talks without fail," North Korea's KCNA news agency quoted leader Kim Jong-il as saying during a meeting with Wen.
"We expressed our readiness to hold multilateral talks, depending on the outcome of the DPRK-U.S. talks. The six-party talks are also included in the multilateral talks."
One analyst said it boiled down to impoverished North Korea needing an end to its pariah status -- which is largely in U.S. hands -- and Washington wanting to be certain Pyongyang will not sell any nuclear weaponry abroad.
"North Korea wants sanctions removed ... What the United States wants is some assurance about proliferation because the U.S. doesn't really care about restoration of an obsolete nuclear plant or how much nuclear material the North has got," said Cho Min of the Korea Institute of National Unification.
He said the focus was now on whether Washington sends an official, possibly special envoy Stephen Bosworth, to the North.