North Korea on Monday hinted at a new dialogue over its nuclear arms, in what observers said was a direct overture to the United States -- despite a US refusal to abandon broader international talks.
A statement from the North's foreign ministry, carried by state media, said there was a "specific and reserved form of dialogue" that Pyongyang would entertain over the nuclear impasse.
The comments came after a war of words between North Korea and the US during an ASEAN meeting last week in which Pyongyang's roving ambassador declared existing six-party talks "already dead."
The US has repeatedly refused to sidestep the multilateral meeting -- which groups the two Koreas, the US, Russia, China and Japan -- and has insisted there is no chance of direct talks.
North Korea's foreign ministry Monday again dismissed the forum.
"Any attempt to side with those who claim the resumption of the six-party talks without grasping the essence of the matter will not help ease tension," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by state media.
"There is a specific and reserved form of dialogue that can address the current situation."
The spokesman did not elaborate on what form such a dialogue could take.
"What Pyongyang calls for is a direct US-North Korean dialogue," Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korea expert and professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, told AFP.
The North quit the six-party talks after the UN Security Council censured it for a long-range rocket launch in April. In May it also staged its second nuclear test.
The Council has since imposed tougher sanctions, including an expanded arms embargo and beefed up inspections of air, sea and land shipments going to and from North Korea.
A travel ban has also been imposed on five Pyongyang officials suspected of being involved in the country's nuclear and missile programmes. The overseas assets of eight North Korean business entities have been frozen.
The United States has urged the international community to continue to pressure North Korea to return to the six-party talks which also groups the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
In Washington, a senior State Department official told AFP that Pyongyang's statement Monday "fails to meet" US and international demands for North Korea to resume the disarmament talks.
"We have a (six-party) framework and the North Koreans need to recommit to denuclearization through that framework and implement their obligations," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that North Korea had no option but to return to the six-party talks and she told the regime it should not hope to extract concessions from Washington by being belligerent.
"We want to make clear to North Korea that their behaviour is not going to be rewarded," she said. "Those days are over."
The North countered Monday that its six-party partners had failed in "the respect for sovereignty and equality among the parties, the lifeblood of the talks," by supporting UN sanctions.
"The six-party talks departed from their original goal and nature so far due to the unchanged moves of the hostile forces to stifle (North Korea) that they can hardly regain them," the statement said.
North Korea's defence minister Kim Yong-Chun Sunday promised to respond to the UN sanctions, saying: "We will mercilessly and resolutely counter the enemy's 'sanctions' with retaliation, its 'all-out war' with all-out war."
Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, has said Pyongyang's growing overtures aim to deflect US-led international pressure on the regime as well as to try to negotiate a direct deal with Washington.
Seoul's strategy and finance ministry said Monday its ban on transactions between South Korean banks and the blacklisted North Korean entities would take effect beginning July 29.