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(photo credit: AP)
A North Korean diplomat said the communist nation's self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile launches applies only when the country is in dialogue with the US, Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday.
"Some say our missile test launch is a violation of the moratorium, but this is not the case," Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the United Nations, told Yonhap in an interview from New York.
"North Korea as a sovereign state has the right to develop, deploy, test fire and export a missile," he said.
However, Han didn't directly say the country was actually moving toward a launch in the reported comments.
North Korea imposed its own moratorium in 1999 amid friendlier relations with the US during the Clinton administration. During a 2002 summit with Japan, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il signed an agreement to extend the moratorium until at least 2003 - and reaffirmed the launch ban at another summit in 2004.
The North's alleged moves in recent days toward its first long-range launch since 1998 have drawn condemnation from regional powers and raised tensions.
The US has said it has contacted the North directly through its UN mission in New York. The North has refused to return to international talks on its nuclear program that include the United States since November, in anger over a US crackdown on the country's alleged illicit financial activity.
Han said the current tension should be resolved through discussion.
"We are aware of the US concerns about our missile test-launch. So our position is that we should resolve the issue through negotiations," he said, according to Yonhap.
Pyongyang has consistently pressed for direct dialogue with the United States, while Washington insists it will only speak to the North at the six-nation nuclear talks.
The North earlier this month repeated an invitation to invite the main US nuclear negotiator to Pyongyang, but drew a cold response from Washington.