The White House said Monday that it had long been its position that there was a path to talks for North Korea, after top US diplomat John Kerry raised the prospect of "authentic" negotiations.
The comments appeared to be an attempt to discount expectations of any policy shift in Washington on conditional talks with Pyongyang, which has hiked regional tensions with a string of nuclear threats and rhetoric.
"It has long been our position... that North Korea has available to it a path that it could take if it agreed to the basic principle that it needs to be committed to its international obligations," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"It needs to be committed to the proposition of a denuclearized Korean peninsula."
"North Korea has unfortunately chosen another path, a different path, the path of provocative behavior and rhetoric that has only served to isolate it further and to bring more harm to its economy through sanctions and the like.
"So that's what Secretary Kerry was referring to, that this path is available to North Korea, but that has long been our position."
Kerry said earlier in Tokyo that Washington was ready to talk to North Korea but that Pyongyang had to take "meaningful steps" to honor its international commitments -- remarks which appeared consistent with Carney's comments.
"The United States remains open to authentic and credible negotiations on denuclearization, but the burden is on Pyongyang," he said. "North Korea must take meaningful steps to show it will honor commitments it has already made," Kerry said.