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S. Korean, Russia Conclude Talks on North Korea's Nuclear Program - 2003-04-01


The top security adviser to South Korea's president is wrapping up a two-day visit to Moscow aimed at reviving efforts to find a solution to the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program. Russian officials believe the answer to the dispute lies in direct negotiations.

Russia's position on the North Korean nuclear dispute mirrors its views on the recent standoff over Iraqi disarmament, with officials in Moscow believing that only diplomacy will yield progress.

Russia has been trying for months to mediate direct talks between communist North Korea and the United States since the impasse took a turn for the worse last October. That is when U.S. officials said North Korea had acknowledged having a nuclear program, in violation of a 1994 agreement.

Pyongyang denies making such a claim and shortly after the U.S. announcement, officials in the north withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and expelled U.N. nuclear monitors.

Russia has urged Washington to immediately start a dialogue with North Korea, warning that it is the only way to peacefully resolve the crisis. The same message was delivered during the past two days of talks in Moscow with visiting South Korean presidential envoy, Ra Jong-Yil.

The envoy met with a series of Russian officials, all of whom urged him to push the United States toward the negotiating table.

The United States has resisted such moves before, saying it favors a multi-lateral approach that would include all regional powers.

Russia's Interfax news agency quotes Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov as saying Moscow is ready to step forward and offer solutions, but only after Washington and Pyongyang begin talking.

Mr. Losyukov also warned that failure to do so could push North Korea to develop nuclear weapons as a defense, as he says officials in Pyongyang earlier threatened.

He said Russia is maintaining contacts with North Korea, China, Japan, and South Korea, as well as with the United States. But according to Mr. Losyukov, contacts are a poor substitute for direct dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

"There is no alternative to negotiations in achieving peace on the peninsula," he said.

The South Korean envoy is due Wednesday to leave Moscow for Beijing, where he is scheduled to hold more talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

His trip was scheduled after North Korea vowed to resist all international demands to allow nuclear inspections or to disarm. Officials in Pyongyang said Iraq had made this mistake and "was now paying the price."