SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said it was open to dialog with the US but that it would not return to the "humiliating negotiating table" until it has boosted its nuclear arsenal enough to fend off an American attack, the state news agency reported.
"Genuine dialog is possible only at the phase where the DPRK has acquired nuclear deterrent enough to defuse the US threat of nuclear war unless the US rolls back its hostile policy," the North's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state news agency, KCNA.
The statement came after a series of escalating threats against both the US and its neighbor, South Korea.
President Barack Obama said in an interview Tuesday that it is likely that North Korea will display more "provocative behavior" but that it would not be rewarded.
"You don't get to bang … your spoon on the table and somehow you get your way."
Most experts in Seoul agree that North Korea would rarely fully opposed dialogue, even if it has reservations about going to the table with Washington, Beijing and any other interested nations. Some experts in Seoul say the regime ultimately wants aid and concessions from the outside world, so there is little reason to completely shut off the channels of diplomacy.
The Korea Herald said both sides need to "save face," or retain some sort of decent standing among their peers, so they aren't belittled and humiliated, and finally forced to step out of negotiations. North Korean leaders may understandably suffer from a lack of face — even as they try to convince their people that they are powerful and feared worldwide.
So North Korea may be willing to meet with Chinese or American officials following US Secretary of State John Kerry's offer to Beijing, which is an interlocutor. It just doesn't want to get the short end of the stick, giving up its nuclear program without much from the American side.
Obama said it was difficult to predict what North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be under 30, will do since threatening to launch preemptive nuclear strikes on the US and South Korea is in defiance of UN sanctions.
"Based on our current intelligence assessments, we do not think that they have that capacity," Obama said, adding that the US military has repositioned missile defenses "to guard against any miscalculation on their part."
The US State Department said it was open to communicating with North Korea if they stop their provocations.
"The burden remains on Pyongyang, which needs to take meaningful steps to show that they'll honor their commitments," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
"And so they know what they need to do to start showing that."
Earlier Tuesday, North Korea rejected a request by South Korean business owners to visit the now-closed Gaeseong industrial complex to check on their assets.
Gaeseong, which was jointly run by North and South Korea, has been closed since April 9.