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Talks with North Korea, US Should Resume Now, says Russia - 2003-07-21


Russia's top Asia expert is calling for immediate negotiations on the nuclear standoff between North Korea and the United States.

Russia's deputy foreign minister, Alexander Losyukov, said talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis need to start as soon as possible in order to decrease tensions on the peninsula.

Mr. Losyukov blamed both the United States and North Korea for failing to signal a willingness to move forward on the issue. The longer the standoff goes on, he said, the more the situation could deteriorate into what he called a hot conflict.

His comments came during a visit to Seoul Monday that coincided with new reports that North Korea may have a second secret nuclear facility capable of making weapons-grade plutonium.

Concern has been growing since last year about North Korea's nuclear program. In October, U.S. officials said North Korea had acknowledged having a nuclear program, in violation of a 1994 agreement. Pyongyang denies making such a claim.

Russia has for months been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to broker talks between the two countries.

North Korea is pushing for what it calls equal and direct talks with the United States, while the United States favors multi-lateral talks that would include regional powers.

Russia, which had been backing Korea's position to start, now said that it will welcome negotiations in any format.

Mr. Losyukov also said that orders have been issued to test Russia's civil defense system in Russia's Far East. The Russian minister added that the preparedness test was completely natural given the situation of heightened concern surrounding the Korean peninsula.