The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that North Korea's weapons of mass destruction program is in conflict with U.N. Security Council resolutions, but stopped short of condemning its missile launches earlier this month.
North Korea fired short-range missiles on May 9 in apparent frustration with stalled negotiations with the U.S. That followed the launch of a barrage of projectiles just days earlier.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters in Tokyo over the weekend that the launches were in violation of U.N. resolutions that ban the North's use of ballistic missile technology.
But days later U.S. President Donald Trump said he views them "differently" and downplayed the firings in an apparent bid to keep diplomacy with the North alive.
"I think the entire North Korean WMD program, it's in conflict with the U.N. Security (Council) resolution, but what the U.S. is focused on here ... is in trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the North Korean WMD program," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told a regular press briefing.
Asked again if the State Department views the launches as a violation of U.N. resolutions, she replied, "again, to go back to what I said, the entire WMD program violates U.N. Security (Council) resolutions."
She added that economic sanctions on North Korea will remain in place until denuclearization is achieved, while the U.S. keeps the door open to further talks.
"We want these talks and discussions to remain ongoing," she said, citing the seriousness of the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear program and the negative impact on the world should talks collapse.
"And most importantly," she said, "it's important for the North Korean people. I think the secretary believes with the president that there is a brighter future to be had for the people of North Korea, and that's something I think we all can hope for. So you have to have faith in those talks."
Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been deadlocked since a February summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended without a deal.
The North has demanded sanctions relief in return for steps toward denuclearization, but the U.S. insists on seeing full denuclearization before offering major concessions.
On Friday the North threatened to end all talks with the U.S. unless Washington "comes forward with a new method of calculation."
Ortagus said the State Department has no assessment to share publicly of whether it deemed the recently launched short-range missiles to in fact be ballistic missiles.
"I don't think it was lost on any of us that these launches were an attempt to send a message to the administration," she said. "I would say, again, we're focused on the relationship between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, and continuing talks and dialogue in order, again, to find this bright path forward for the North Korean people."