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 Sunday, 5 January, 2003, 15:55 GMT
Russia seeks to calm nuclear row
A North Korean soldier at a border watchtower
South Korea wants to avert a crisis on its tense border
Russia says it will try to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme, but it has also called on the US to show flexibility.

Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said Russia and China offered the best hope of influencing North Korea, but added that dialogue between the US and the North was essential.

Other solutions should be sought so that North Korea doesn't feel insecure and will be able to give up its nuclear programme

Alexander Losyukov
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister

His comments came after he held talks aimed at resolving the crisis with his South Korean counterpart Kim Han-Kyung on Sunday.

Tensions escalated last month when North Korea decided to reactivate a nuclear complex which had been out of action since a 1994 agreement with the US.

The Korean envoy's meetings in Moscow are part of a flurry of diplomatic activity seeking to mediate an end to the confrontation.

'Quiet diplomacy'

Mr Losyukov told Russian news agency Interfax that in the two-hour meeting the two men discussed several options for settling the dispute.

CRISIS CHRONOLOGY
Satellite photo of the Yongbyon plant
16 Oct: N Korea acknowledges secret nuclear programme, US says
14 Nov: Oil shipments to N Korea halted
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Yongbyon nuclear plant
26 Dec: UN says 1,000 fuel rods have been moved to the plant
31 Dec: UN nuclear inspectors leave North Korea
31 Dec: N Korea threatens to pull out of NPT nuclear treaty

Mr Kim in turn said that Moscow had agreed to "do its best" to urge restraint on the part of North Korea.

BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford says that the meeting was one of like minds with both sides agreeing on the need for calm negotiations.

However, she says that while Russia may possess some rare influence on the regime, its capacity for real pressure is limited, and in the meeting there was no suggestion that Moscow would send an envoy to Pyongyang.

Both sides also said it was too soon to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council.

South Korean officials have urged the North to first scrap its nuclear weapons programme to open the way for dialogue with the US, which has ruled out talks until Pyongyang changes tack.

Mr Losyukov had earlier appealed for "quiet diplomacy" in order to establish the positions of both sides in this stand-off.

"That means that other solutions should be sought so that North Korea doesn't feel insecure and will be able to make a welcome step and give up its nuclear programme", Mr Losyukov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

'Common task'

Pyongyang has already indicated it might be willing to accept the help of an intermediary in its dispute with the US.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and successor Roh Moo-hyon
President Kim Dae-jung and his successor Roh Moo-hyon both back diplomacy

Russia is a traditional ally of Pyongyang and relations have taken a dramatic turn for the better in recent years, with visits by the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Mr Kim is expected to suggest a plan in which poverty-stricken North Korea is guaranteed security and fuel oil in return for an end to its nuclear weapons programme - thereby avoiding the need for a non-aggression pact.

South Korea is also sending an envoy to Washington this week for talks with the Bush administration - and separate three-way talks with the US and Japan begin on Monday.

The South is reported to be pressing the US to drop its refusal to negotiate with North Korea and resume oil supplies to the Stalinist state.

Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-Shik left Beijing on Friday after obtaining China's pledge to help solve the crisis "peacefully through dialogue".

Pyongyang accepts it has broken the terms of the 1994 agreement it made with the US by removing surveillance equipment from a nuclear plant supposed to remain dormant.

But it said it needed the Yongbyon plant to generate electricity after the US stopped sending aid shipments of oil.

For its part, the US said it halted oil deliveries after North Korea had admitted carrying out banned nuclear work.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"North Korea continues to defy the United States"
  The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Russia may be able to bring some personal diplomacy to bear"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

04 Jan 03 | Media reports
03 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
01 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
31 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
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