WASHINGTON -- The United States is open to discussions with North Korea on a peace treaty even while six-country talks continue on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programs, but the North Koreans must first come back to the negotiating table, US officials said yesterday.
Commenting on a report in The New York Times, two US officials said the concurrent efforts have been underway for months. They played down the Times report that the Bush administration was considering a new approach.
But some observers said there seemed to be at least a slight change in US emphasis designed to entice Pyongyang back into talks and keep Asian allies from blaming Washington for the moribund diplomacy.
''The approach with North Korea has always been the same, which is, when North Korea comes back and participates in the six-party talks, then we can proceed," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
''Nothing happens until North Korea goes back and participates in the six-party talks dealing with the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, and to talk about any further steps is premature," he told reporters traveling with President Bush to Yuma, Ariz.
The New York Times said that if Bush allows talks about a peace treaty to take place on a parallel track with six-nation talks on disarmament, it would ''signal another major change of tactics" for the administration, which has been divided about how to deal with Pyongyang through most of Bush's tenure.
North Korea has long demanded a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
While officials denied a major shift, Jon Wolfstahl, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the US position ''opens up at least the option for a change in sequencing" negotiations.