The US is in “direct contact” with North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said.
Tillerson said Washington was “probing” the possibility of talks with Pyongyang, “so stay tuned”.
“We have lines of communications to Pyongyang,” he said during a trip to China. “We’re not in a dark situation.”
North Korea and the US have engaged in heated rhetoric in recent months but it was not previously known they had lines of communication.
US President Donald Trump has threatened to annihilate North Korea, saying the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, “is on a suicide mission”, which led Kim to release a statement vowing to “tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire”.
The war of words comes against a backdrop of repeated missile tests and Pyongyang’s claim that, on September 3, it successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen bomb which could be loaded on to a long-range missile.
The tests were internationally condemned, with the UN bringing in sanctions against North Korea in an attempt to force the secretive state to stop its weapons programme.
Tillerson is in China meeting with President Xi Jinping and other officials, hoping to encourage them to implement the sanctions.
China this week told North Korean businesses operating in its territory to close down. However, China remains keen to see negotiations with North Korea.