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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Russia announces Koreas talks
North Korea's Kim Jong-il welcomes Russia's Vladimir Putin to Pyongyang (archive, 2000)
Russia is one of the few states with access to North Korea's leader
Russia is to consult both Koreas on a proposed six-way meeting to discuss the North's nuclear weapons ambitions, a senior official has said.

Alexander Losyukov, deputy foreign minister, said the talks would be held in Moscow and another meeting could take place with Japan.

He was speaking in Beijing where he is expected to meet a Chinese envoy who has recently returned from Pyongyang.

North Korea agreed to six-way talks earlier this month after previously insisting on bilateral talks with the US to resolve the crisis.

"The consultations will begin literally the day after tomorrow," Mr Losyukov told Russia's Itar-Tass news agency at Beijing's Shoudu Airport.

North Korean missile test (archive)

The negotiators at the Moscow consultations were likely to be those who would go on to lead their delegations at the six-way talks, he added, without giving details.

No dates have been formalised but one Japanese newspaper, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, reports that the US, South Korea and Japan are telling China they would like a two-day meeting in Beijing starting on 26 August.

While in Beijing, Mr Losyukov is expected to meet Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi who returned from a three-day visit to North Korea on Saturday.

Confirming that the six-party talks would go ahead, Mr Wang told reporters they would start in Beijing in the latter half of August.

The "participant parties are still discussing the exact dates", he said.

Bargaining chips

The crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions started in October 2002, when the US reported that the North had admitted to a covert weapons programme.

The North has since withdrawn from the international nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty, ejected UN inspectors and claimed to have the capability to make weapons-grade plutonium.

Some analysts suspect the North wants to trade its nuclear capabilities for a non-aggression pact with the US, as well as economic and diplomatic rewards.

But the US has said it will not accept North Korean "nuclear blackmail", and any agreement would be conditional on the North putting a full and verifiable end to its nuclear programmes

The BBC's Seoul correspondent, Charles Scanlon, says any agreements on inspections and verification will be a significant obstacle for North Korea, one of the world's most secretive and militaristic nations.

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