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Russia Urges Washington, Pyongyang to Reduce Tensions Over N. Korea Nuclear Program - 2003-04-08

Russia has again called on the United States and North Korea to take urgent steps to defuse tensions over North Korea's nuclear program. The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to debate the North Korean nuclear issue on Wednesday.

Russia's deputy foreign minister, Alexander Losyukov, says the standoff between Washington and Pyongyang over North Korea's nuclear program is "extremely dangerous."

Mr. Losyukov told Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency that Moscow is urging the two sides to negotiate because failure to do so will increase mutual distrust.

North Korea insists on direct talks with the United States. But Washington favors a multilateral approach that would involve all nations that U.S. officials say are at risk from North Korea's nuclear program.

A little more than a week ago, Mr. Losyukov said Moscow was ready to mediate a solution to the standoff, but only after officials in Washington and Pyongyang began talking.

He said Russia was now advancing a plan that calls for six-sided discussions involving the United States, North Korea, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan.

A senior U.S. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice discussed the North Korean crisis with top Russian officials during her one-day working visit to Moscow on Monday.

The U.S. diplomat said Moscow and Washington agree on the goal, securing peace on the Korean Peninsula. But as the diplomat put it, we continue to disagree over the tactics.

Washington has been pressing the United Nations to take up the North Korean issue since last October. That is when American officials said North Korea had acknowledged having a nuclear program, in violation of a 1994 agreement.

Russia and China fear that bringing North Korea before the Security Council in New York will drive the country deeper into isolation. North Korea has said it would consider any sanctions by the Security Council a declaration of war.

Russia's deputy foreign minister also expressed fears that the dispute could further destabilize already strained relations between Washington and Moscow, which have suffered as a result of differences over the U.S.-led war in Iraq.