A North Korean diplomat on Wednesday raised the possibility of the hermit regime holding bilateral talks with the United States.
"Under certain circumstances, we are willing to talk in terms of the freezing of nuclear testing and missile testing," North Korea Ambassador to India Kye Chun Yong said during an interview on India's TV network WION.
According to Kye, North Korea is prepared to hold such negotiations with the U.S. at "anytime" — but without preconditions from Washington.
"If our demands is met [sic], we can negotiate in terms of the moratorium of such [programs] as weapons testing," the diplomat said.
That said, North Korea first wants to see the U.S. "completely stop" large-scale joint military exercises with South Korea, temporarily or permanently, according to Kye. And he said the North would agree to a temporary stop of exercises too.
The U.S. has more than 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea and around 50,000 American military personnel in Japan. The U.S. regularly holds joint military drills with the two Asian allies, including exercises involving land troops, navy and air forces.
The U.S. is worried about North Korea's continued development of nuclear weapons as well as its push to have an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. North Korea has already demonstrated it has missiles that can reach Japan and South Korea as well as U.S. military bases on Guam, and experts say they probably can reach the state of Hawaii.
It was unclear if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shares the views of his Indian envoy. In the past, Kim has eliminated officials or even family members he considers to be out of line or a threat to the dynastic regime.
Meantime, rhetoric coming from North Korean state media Thursday appeared to indicate Pyongyang is pressing forward with its nuclear weapons and missile development.
"The army of the DPRK is whetting the sword of retaliation shaper [sic] than before with a firm hold on the nuclear sword of justice to cope with the U.S. imperialists' escalating aggression moves," North's Korean state-run Korean Central News Agency said on its website.
Also, KCNA said "the Trump administration, obsessed by megalomania, is going arrogant to mount a preemptive nuclear strike at the DPRK." DPRK is a reference to North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
A day earlier, KCNA vowed North Koreans would "take revenge upon the U.S. aggressors with the approach of June 25, the day of struggle against U.S. imperialism."
One possibility is North Korea maybe hinting that it will mark June 25 to conduct its sixth nuclear test or test-fire another ballistic missile. The date of June 25, 1950 is the anniversary of when North Korea's army attacked South Korea, crossing the so-called 38th parallel and touching off the Korean War.
Pyongyang's last nuclear test was in September 9, 2016, and it marked the 68th anniversary of the communist state's creation.
At the same time, next week could prove pivotal for the future of the Korean Peninsula as South Korean President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to meet June 29 to 30 with President Donald Trump during a visit in Washington.
Moon, who took office last month, is seen as having a more moderate approach to the North that could put him at odds with Trump's vow to act alone if necessary to solve the North Korean threat.
Last week, Moon opened the door to direct dialogue with the North Koreans in remarks at a peace center. He also expressed a willingness to hold parallel talks on both denuclearization as well as a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.
"Whatever policy we take has to be in coordination with South Korea," said Dean Cheng, senior research fellow on Chinese military and security issues at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think-tank. "If South Korea is not willing to use force, that creates an interesting dilemma for the U.S. if we want to use force."
In April, Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and they discussed the North Korea problem. Trump praised the superpowers' relationship and sought to downplay any trade friction that he previously had with Beijing.
A tweet from Trump on Tuesday, though, appeared to indicate that the cordial relationship with Xi hasn't moved the needle in terms of convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
"While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea," Trump tweeted, "it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!"
Even so, the Trump administration is continuing to reach out to China for help on the North Korean issue. The administration is also considering new sanctions against Pyongyang and wants Beijing to agree to them.
"We reiterated to China that they have diplomatic responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region," Tillerson told reporters.
Mattis said the two sides "affirmed North Korea's nuclear and missile programs as a threat to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region." However, he added that the U.S. "will continue to take necessary measures to defend ourselves and our allies."
China is a longtime ally of the isolated state and its largest trading partner.
Experts say China wants to keep North Korea as a buffer zone between the communist North and U.S.-backed South Korea. They also say Beijing is worried that a collapse of the North would create a refugee crisis with millions of North Koreans crossing the border into China.
"The Chinese are only going so far in terms of pressuring North Korea," said Joel Wit, senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and co-founder of Washington's 38 North think-tank.
"We are hitting, or about to hit, a dead end," Wit added.