In rare discord with the Defense Department, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday criticized an anonymous defense official for saying the United States was ready to bring the impasse over North Korea's nuclear programs to the U.N. Security Council.

Reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over the weekend quoted a "senior defense official" as saying a decision on referring the matter to the United Nations would be made within weeks. The official noted that it has been one year since North Korea last attended multilateral talks on ending its programs.

Asked about the comments, Rice said they were inaccurate. "The idea that within weeks we are going to decide one way or another is a little forward-leaning," she told reporters as she flew here for a meeting of the Organization of American States. "The president put it very well the other day that we still believe that there is life left in the six-party talks."

Rice's predecessor, Colin L. Powell, had legendary battles with Rumsfeld, but such conflicts have not been visible during Rice's tenure. She noted that in March, she said the United States was examining its options, but added that neither she nor President Bush "put timelines" on such decisions.

On Saturday, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported that officials from the United States and North Korea recently spoke by telephone and may have discussed resuming the six-nation talks. U.S. officials have not indicated they would modify their last offer before talks could resume.

-- Glenn Kessler

Condoleezza Rice said there is no timeline for a decision.