North Korea expressed willingness Wednesday to rejoin long-stalled nuclear talks, according to its ally China, but the United States, Japan and South Korea called for action instead of words.
China, which has faced US pressure to rein in North Korea, quoted the regime's veteran negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan as saying Pyongyang was willing to engage in any form of dialogue to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully.
Kim, during talks in Beijing, said the dialogue could take place through six-party talks, which began in 2003 but have been dormant since 2008, China's foreign ministry said in a statement.
It was the second such statement by North Korea. Choe Ryong-Hae, a close confidant of the North's leader Kim Jong-Un, made similar comments last month during a visit to Beijing in which he met President Xi Jinping.
But the United States, South Korea and Japan -- allies who form one half of the six-way talks along with China, Russia and North Korea itself -- insisted that Pyongyang live up to earlier promises.
"We will judge the DPRK by its actions, not its words," the allies said in a statement after their envoys on North Korea met in Washington, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"We agreed a path is open for the DPRK toward improved relations with the United States, Japan and (South Korea) if the DPRK takes meaningful steps on denuclearization," the statement said.
Tensions over the North's nuclear programme soared in February after it carried out a third underground atomic blast, angering the international community and triggering tightened UN sanctions supported by China.
Tempers have cooled in recent months, however, amid expectations Pyongyang may be moving towards dialogue rather than confrontation.
But North Korea unexpectedly cancelled much-anticipated talks with South Korea last week, casting doubt on its intentions.
In further diplomacy on North Korea, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone Wednesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and UN chief Ban Ki-moon met in Beijing with Xi.
The China News Service, a state media outlet, reported that Xi described China's "principled positions" on the Korean peninsula and Syria, the report said, without elaborating.
Xi also told Ban that Beijing will increase efforts to promote the peaceful settlement of international disputes, Xinhua reported.
China, the North's sole ally, is seen as the country with the most influence on Pyongyang's actions.
While China has consistently called for Pyongyang's denuclearisation and has joined in UN sanctions, Beijing has also long helped prop it up with aid and investment.
US President Barack Obama, who met Xi in California earlier this month, said this week that China is taking a tougher line against North Korea's nuclear programme, hailing Xi for taking more responsibility in the world.
North Korea has renewed calls for direct dialogue with the United States, a move that most US experts see as a way to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.
Glyn Davies, the US pointman on North Korea who took part in Wednesday's talks with South Korea and Japan, said in a recent speech that North Korea's actions this year set the bar higher for a resumption of dialogue.
He voiced scepticism about North Korea's intentions and called for the regime to address its nuclear issue as well as other concerns, including human rights.