North Korea made clear Tuesday it would not return to the "humiliating negotiating table."
"The DPRK (North Korea) is not opposed to dialogue but has no idea of sitting at the humiliating negotiating table with the party brandishing a nuclear stick," the North's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state news agency, KCNA.
The statement, released by an unnamed spokesman, marked the clearest response yet to the recent U.S. offer of talks aimed at easing months of heightened tensions.
It also signalled Pyongyang may be trying to create favorable conditions for the possible resumption of talks.
On his trip to Northeast Asia last week, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington is prepared to talk with Pyongyang if it shows seriousness about denuclearization.
Kerry's remarks were in line with Washington's long-standing policy on Pyongyang, but those were understood to be a sort of formal proposal for dialogue amid worries about a possible armed conflict. Earlier, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said her administration would talk with North Korea as part of efforts to build trust, which Park labels as a "Korean Peninsula Trustpolitik process."
The North's ministry accused the U.S. of seeking to pass the blame for the stand-off.
"Recently U.S. high-ranking officials are vying with each other to talk about dialogue," it said in the English-version statement.
"This is nothing but a crafty ploy to evade the blame for the tension on the eve of a war by pretending to refrain from military actions and stand for dialogue."
The ministry compared Washington's suggestion for dialogue to a "robber's calling for a negotiated solution while brandishing his gun."
"Worse still, the U.S. claims that it will opt for dialogue when the DPRK (North Korea) shows its will for denuclearization first is a very impudent hostile act of disregarding the line of the Workers' Party of Korea and the law of the DPRK," an unnamed spokesman for the foreign ministry said, according to the English-version statement monitored in Seoul.
"Dialogue should be based on the principle of respecting sovereignty and equality -- this is the DPRK's consistent stand,"
it read. "Genuine dialogue is possible only at the phase where the DPRK has acquired nuclear deterrent enough to defuse the U.S.
threat of nuclear war unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy and nuclear threat and blackmail against the former."
North Korea has been apparently seeking nuclear power status for the stated goal of negotiating a peace treaty formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War.
"The DPRK will escalate its military countermeasures for self-defense unless the U.S. ceases its nuclear war drills and withdraws all its war hardware for aggression," added the statement.
The U.S. government reiterated that the ball is in the North Korean court.
"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 in Washington. "And so they know what they need to do to start showing that."
Analysts say there is a wide gap between Pyongyang and Washington on what should be discussed if talks resume.
The two sides seem to be in a tug-of-war for the terms of starting talks after playing a game of chicken for the past weeks, they contend.
"The Obama administration already is seeking more room to pursue another round of negotiations with North Korea," said Larry Niksch, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In particular, Kerry is still optimistic about negotiating a deal with North Korea that achieves denuclearization.
"If China presses harder for a new six-party meeting, Kerry probably would argue within the Obama administration for accepting the Chinese proposal," Niksch said. "Kerry also hinted that he might seek to send a special U.S. envoy to North Korea. So, there may be another round of U.S.-North Korean nuclear negotiations later this year."
Niksch expressed skepticism, however, that talks will produce any positive results.