A top North Korean official warned the United States on Tuesday not to misinterpret comments by her leader, saying doing so would end in disappointment, as a US envoy aiming to get talks with the North back on track met South Korea's president.
Kim Yo Jong, a senior official in North Korea's ruling party and sister of leader Kim Jong Un, released a statement in state media saying the United States appeared to be interpreting signals from North Korea in the "wrong way".
She was responding to US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan, who on Sunday said he saw as an "interesting signal" in a recent speech by Kim Jong Un on preparing for both confrontation and diplomacy with the United States.
"It seems that the US may interpret the situation in such a way as to seek a comfort for itself," she said in the statement, carried by the North's KCNA state news agency.
"The expectation, which they chose to harbour the wrong way, would plunge them into a greater disappointment."
North Korea's nuclear weapons programme has been a seemingly intractable problem for the United States for years.
President Joe Biden's administration has conducted a review of North Korea policy that concluded the United States would seek to find "calibrated and practical" ways of inducing it to give up its nuclear weapons.
Kim's warning to the United States came as the recently appointed US special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, was visiting South Korea to meet senior officials, including President Moon Jae-in.
Moon told the US envoy he would do his best to get inter-Korean and US-North Korea relations back on track during the remainder of his term in office and expressed hopes for progress toward denuclearisation and peace on the Korean peninsula, presidential spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee said.
Sung Kim reaffirmed Biden's support for meaningful inter-Korean dialogue and engagement and said he would "do his best for resumption of US-North Korea talks", Park said.
On Monday, Sung Kim said he was willing to meet the North Koreans "anywhere, anytime without preconditions" and that he looks forward to a "positive response soon". read more
In a sign being seen in South Korea as a positive US gesture, the two allies also discussed scrapping a joint "working group" that analysts say South Korea has seen as an irritant in their relations.
Sung Kim, in talks with his South Korean counterpart, Noh Kyu-duk, agreed to "look into terminating the working group", while reinforcing coordination at other levels, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The working group was set up in 2018 to help the allies coordinate approaches to North Korea on issues such as denuclearisation talks, humanitarian aid, sanctions enforcement and inter-Korean relations amid a flurry of diplomatic engagement with the North at that time.
The Moon administration has made building ties with the North a top priority. In an indication of South Korea's doubts about the working group's coordination, a former aide to Moon told parliament last year it was increasingly seen as an obstacle to relations between the two Koreas.
South Korea would see ending the working group as a goodwill gesture from Biden, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea expert at King's College London.
"From a South Korean perspective, this was basically a mechanism for the US to block inter-Korean projects during the Trump years," he said.
"It would be a clever political move for the Biden administration to end the group since consultation between Washington and Seoul will take place anyway."