The White House said Monday that Donald Trump had been referring to a call with South Korea's leader when he appeared to suggest a landmark direct contact with the nuclear North.
Trump raised eyebrows at a Washington media dinner on Saturday when he said "they, by the way, called up a couple of days ago and said 'we would like to talk.'
"And I said, 'so would we, but you have to de-nuke, you have to de-nuke,'" Trump added.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Trump had in fact been referencing a call he had on Thursday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Pyongyang is the Korean peninsula's only nuclear-armed power, prompting speculation of rare direct contact between US and North Korean officials.
Moon has prodded Trump toward negotiations, and has met North Korean officials himself.
Trump has taken a more bellicose position, suggesting military action is possible if North Korea does not stop efforts to develop a nuclear armed missile capable of hitting the continental United States.