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Putin Dispatching Envoy in Bid to End Korea Nuclear Standoff - 2003-01-14

Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending a special envoy to North Korea, China, and the United States, in a bid to defuse the stand-off over North Korea's nuclear program.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Losyukov, will travel to Pyongyang, Beijing, and Washington in the coming days.

An Asian affairs expert, Mr. Losyukov is travelling as part of international efforts to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the dispute over North Korea's nuclear program. Tensions flared when North Korean leader Kim Jong-il revealed he was restarting the country's nuclear program and removing monitoring devices installed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Russian defense minister revealed no further details about Mr. Losyukov's agenda. But he did note "certain hopeful steps and statements" that lead him to believe a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff can still be found.

The announcement follows a four-day visit to Moscow by Japan's Prime Minister, who pledged to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin in finding a diplomatic solution to the Korea crisis.

Defense Minister Ivanov held follow-up talks with a senior Japanese defense agency official that also covered missile defense plans and ways to boost bilateral military cooperation.

Mr. Ivanov reiterated Russia's condemnation of North Korea's withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. At the same time, he noted Moscow's position that diplomacy is needed, not dictates, to turn the situation on the Korean peninsula around.

Russia also favors a political or diplomatic solution to the international community's dispute with Iraq over its weapons program.

Both issues are expected to be high on the agenda when International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei holds talks Wednesday in Moscow.

Mr. ElBaradei and U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix are due to deliver an interim report to the Security Council on Iraq's weapons declaration and the first weeks of the inspections.