Kim Jong Il 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
North Korea is ready to improve relations with countries that "treat us friendly," the communist country's No. 2 leader said Sunday ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Asia.
The remark by Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state, could be an olive branch to Washington before Clinton's trip - even though it came amid reports the North is gearing up to test-fire a long-range missile in an apparent attempt to grab President Barack Obama's attention.
Clinton was scheduled to depart Sunday on a trip to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China.
"We will develop relations with countries that treat us friendly," Kim told a national meeting held as part of celebrations on the eve of the 67th birthday of leader Kim Jong Il, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea has reportedly moved a long-range Taepodong-2 missile to a launch site on the country's northeastern coast. The missile is the country's most advanced, and is believed capable of reaching US territory. South Korean media have said a launch could come this month.
Analysts say North Korea's saber rattling appears to be an attempt to grab Obama's attention so as to start negotiations where it can extract concessions, since the new US administration seemed more interested in other issues such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Seoul and Washington have issued repeated warnings to North Korea over a possible missile launch.
On Friday, Clinton urged North Korea not to take any provocative actions, saying Washington is willing to normalize ties with it in return for nuclear disarmament.
Her trip comes as North Korea has heightened tensions with South Korea, declaring all peace accords with Seoul dead and suggesting an armed naval clash with the southern neighbor in anger over the hard-line stance South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has taken toward it.
Despite his talk of ties with "friendly" countries, Kim Yong Nam on Sunday kept up the North's near-daily harangue against Seoul.
"All Koreans in the North, the South and overseas should rise up to hand an iron hammer blow to anti-unification forces in South Korea that are bringing the catastrophe of a nuclear war," he told the national meeting.
Relations between the two Koreas have been frayed since Lee took office a year ago with pledges to take a harder line on the North.
The two Koreas remain technically in a state of conflict as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.