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Russia Reacts Cautiously to News of North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program - 2002-10-18

Russian officials are reacting cautiously to the U.S. announcement this week that North Korea has been secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a news conference Friday that Russia is waiting for more information before coming to any conclusions about North Korea's nuclear program. Mr. Ivanov said Russia expects to get more details from Washington and Pyongyang in the near future. He added that Russia has always promoted the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in all countries.

The foreign minister did not comment on allegations that Russia may have provided North Korea with assistance to help it become a nuclear power; but a Russian official earlier Friday denied Russia had helped North Korea, saying this allegation has no connection to reality.

A delegation led by U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton is expected in Moscow early next week as part of intense efforts by the United States to get North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program.

Earlier this week, the United States revealed that North Korea has admitted to secretly developing nuclear weapons. This would be a direct violation of a 1994 agreement under which North Korea agreed to end its nuclear weapons program in return for international assistance to build two light-water reactors.

During the news conference, Mr. Ivanov also addressed the issue of Iraq. Mr. Ivanov stuck by Russia's position that weapons inspectors should return to Iraq as soon as possible and expressed the hope that a resolution to that effect would be passed in the near future.

Mr. Ivanov said if the inspectors face problems in their work, they will report that to the United Nations Security Council. He said only the U.N. Security Council could then make a decision about further actions against Iraq, including the use of force.

Unlike Russia, the United States and Britain favor a U.N. resolution that would permit the use of force if Iraq hampers the work of the weapons inspectors.

Mr. Ivanov said he did not want to speculate on what Russia would do if the United States and Britain were to act alone regarding Iraq.