The Bush administration is considering including seeds and small tools when it ships more than 50,000 tons of donated food to North Korea (search).

"Our objective is to help relieve the suffering of the North Korean people, despite our concerns about the North Korean government's policies," said State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli. The specific types of food will be determined in consultation with the World Food Program, which oversees distribution.

The White House says the food donation announced Wednesday is a humanitarian decision unrelated to efforts to get Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program.

Almost simultaneously, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who is in charge of the U.S. negotiations effort, said, "I'm more than willing to meet Chairman Kim Jong Il (search) and hope to meet him."

Hill's courteous statement was posted on a Web site run by the U.S. Embassy in South Korea. The North Korean leader has been demanding "respect" from the United States.

The administration made a similar decision to provide 50,000 metric tons (about 55,000 tons) of food assistance last July. In 2003, the administration donated 100,000 metric tons. All of these donations were made as the United States and North Korea jostled over the weapons issue, as they still do.

North Korea indicated earlier this month that it was ready to resume talks with the United States and four other countries — Russia, China, Japan and South Korea — but no date has been set.

At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said: "We've been a big supplier of food to the North Korean people and the president has said that he does not believe that food should be used as a diplomatic weapon."

Two private U.S. experts on North Korea said this week that Kim had sent a message to President Bush in November 2002 saying the United States and North Korea "should be able to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of the new century."

"If the United States makes a bold decision, we will respond accordingly," Kim said in a written message to Bush that he sent through Donald Gregg (search) and Don Oberdorfer (search). Gregg is a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and key aide to Bush's father. Oberdorfer is a Korea expert at the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Gregg and Oberdorfer wrote about their trip to Pyongyang in an opinion piece in Wednesday's Washington Post.

The message appeared to reflect a persistent North Korean demand for direct talks with the United States, in preference to the six-party format.

The administration has offered assurances U.S. and North Korean diplomats could confer against the six-nation backdrop. And yet, with these and other signs of a breakthrough in the making, no date or place for negotiations has been announced.