China and the US held talks yesterday on the crisis over North Korea's nuclear intentions after Washington offered to revive a program to give Pyongyang food and energy if it dropped its nuclear ambitions.
But North Korea warned that it was ready to take more "defensive" measures against the US that would go beyond its decision last week to quit a global treaty preventing the spread of atomic weapons.
In Beijing, US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly faced pressure from China - -- Communist North Korea's neighbor and main ally -- to hold direct talks with Pyongyang, as demanded by the North, as soon as possible, diplomats said.
China has offered to host such talks and Russia said it planned to send a special envoy to key capitals to help find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
There was no official comment on the Beijing discussions between Kelly and Vice Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and other Chinese officials, but Kelly told reporters beforehand they would discuss Sino-US issues and problems related to North Korea.
"There's no substitute for communication," Kelly said.
Kelly was expected to ask Beijing, which provides grain and oil to North Korea at special prices, to put more pressure on Pyongyang to drop its nuclear ambitions and avoid provocative moves such as missile testing, analysts said.
Washington accuses Pyongyang of covertly developing nuclear weapons, a charge the North denies. The crisis came to a head on Saturday when North Korea pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In the strongest sign the White House had dropped a ban on incentives to resolve the issue, President George W. Bush said on Tuesday he might revive his administration's one-time effort to aid North Korea if it abandoned its nuclear programme.
"We expect them not to develop nuclear weapons, and if they so choose to do so -- their choice -- then I will reconsider whether or not we will start the bold initiative that I talked ... about," Bush said.
North Korea did not respond directly to Bush's remarks, but instead raised the stakes in the standoff, which has resulted in a worldwide flurry of diplomatic activity to try to restore calm on the Korean peninsula.
"The DPRK clarifies that it will not make any compromise over the issue related to its sovereignty and dignity in the future," the official Minju Joson newspaper said.
"But [it] is perfectly willing to take an immediate self-defense measure stronger than withdrawal from the NPT, if necessary."
It did not specify what action it might take, but last week it threatened to resume missile tests. It once threatened to remove the US from the face of the earth in "a sea of fire."
Pyongyang has issued a barrage of anti-American rhetoric in recent weeks. Yesterday it blamed Washington for nuclear proliferation and said the US should disarm first.
"The facts prove that the US is the epicenter of the nuclear proliferation and that it should be the first to totally scrap nukes if the nuclear proliferation is to be prevented," said the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
But North Korea also agreed with the South to hold a ninth round of minister-level talks in Seoul from Jan. 21 to 24.