US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday urged North Korea to carry out a "sustained cessation" of weapons testing to allow the two countries to hold talks about Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.
Tillerson's remarks were a retreat from his position earlier this week when he offered to begin direct talks with North Korea without preconditions, backing away from a key US demand that Pyongyang must first accept that giving up its nuclear arsenal would be part of any negotiations.
But the White House distanced itself from those remarks by Tillerson and said now is not the time for negotiations.
"North Korea must earn its way back to the table. The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved," Tillerson told a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on North Korea's weapons programs. He did not specify how long the lull should last.
He told reporters after the meeting that the United States would not accept any preconditions for talks with North Korea.
Tillerson had raised hopes this week that the United States and North Korea could negotiate to resolve their standoff when he said that the United States was “ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk."
North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations on Friday made no mention of Tillerson's call for a halt to testing when he addressed the same UN meeting.
Ambassador Ja Song Nam said his country would not pose a threat to any state, as long as its interests were not infringed upon.
He described the Security Council session as "a desperate measure plotted by the United States being terrified by the incredible might of our Republic that has successfully achieved the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force."
North Korea has made clear it has little interest in negotiations with the US until it has developed the ability to hit the US mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, something most experts say it has yet to prove.
North Korea conducted missile tests at a steady pace since April, then paused in September after firing a rocket that passed over Japan's Hokkaido island.
But it renewed tests in November when it fired a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, which flew higher and further than previous tests.