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Russian Envoy Holds 'Successful' Talks with N. Korean Leader - 2003-01-20

A top Russian envoy says his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang was successful.

Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency reports that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Losyukov spent six hours huddled in talks Monday with the reclusive North Korean leader.

Afterwards, the Russian envoy described the meeting as substantive and successful. He characterized the atmosphere as warm but offered no further details. In addition to Mr. Kim, he met Jo Myong Rok, second in command of North Korea's one million strong army.

Mr. Losyukov has proposed a Russian solution to settle international tensions over the North's nuclear program. It calls for Pyongyang's commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula in exchange for security guarantees from Washington and a package of humanitarian and economic aid for the impoverished Stalinist state.

North Korean officials warned the Russian diplomat on Sunday that international involvement would complicate a resolution to the nuclear impasse, because in their view it is a strictly bilateral matter between Pyongyang and Washington. North Korean official media quoted one official as saying the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula was created by the United States and must be wholly resolved with the two nations sitting "face to face."

But U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says the issue is an international, not bilateral, security threat.

The North is insisting on a non-aggression pact with United States before direct talks can take place, which U.S. officials have rejected.

However, Washington has shifted from its original refusal to talk, but wants the North to dismantle its nuclear program and has indicated it may offer economic aid if Pyongyang complies.

The Russian package is one of a number of diplomatic efforts underway to defuse the tensions, which surfaced in October when the United States said North Korea had an illegal nuclear weapons development program. It snowballed with the North's moves to reactivate shuttered nuclear facilities, expel United Nations inspectors and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation pact.

Russia is one a handful of nations that maintains close contact with North Korea. Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Pyongyang three times and North Korean leader Kim has traveled to Russia twice in recent years.