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US Diplomat Expected to Reaffirm N. Korea, Iran Nuclear Concerns with Russia - 2003-08-25

The senior U.S. diplomat for arms control, John Bolton, is expected to reaffirm American concerns about the nuclear intentions of North Korea and Iran, during two days of talks in Moscow.

During his Moscow visit, Undersecretary of State John Bolton is expected to meet Russia's atomic energy minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, and a deputy foreign minister in charge of disarmament issues, Sergei Kisylak.

U.S. officials said Mr. Bolton would be discussing several non-proliferation issues. But it is believed that long-standing U.S. concerns over North Korea's nuclear program would top the agenda.

Six-party talks on the United States' nuclear standoff with Pyongyang are to begin Wednesday in Beijing. For the first time, Russia will be joining the multi-lateral talks, along with the two Koreas, China, Japan and the United States.

The high-level diplomacy follows months of tension that has built up since last October, when North Korea admitted that it had a program to develop nuclear weapons, despite a nearly decade-old agreement to halt the program.

The crisis escalated when North Korea expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors and backed out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Mr. Bolton will not be joining the Beijing talks, but he was widely engaged in the lead-up to the negotiations during his most recent visit to Moscow, last May. While in Moscow, he also is expected to reiterate long-standing U.S. concerns that Iran may be trying to develop a secret nuclear-weapons program.

Tehran and Moscow deny the charge, saying their project at the Bushehr nuclear power plant is for peaceful purposes only. But Washington remains unconvinced and continues to press Russia to try to gain tighter security guarantees to ensure that Russian expertise and material are not used by Iran for covert nuclear aims.

This past weekend, the Russian government announced that Moscow has finally approved a draft protocol requiring Tehran to return spent nuclear fuel to Russia, where it will be placed in temporary storage until eventual retreatment.

According to the government statement, the draft protocol, in the works for the past year, must still be signed by Moscow and Tehran. But Russia's Itar-Tass news agency says the two sides will confirm a date for the signing as of mid-September.

President Bush has said officials in Washington believe Iran has a far more robust nuclear weapons development program than previously imagined. Mr. Bush has branded both Iran and North Korea, along with the former regime in Iraq, part of an axis of evil.