Page last updated at 08:47 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 09:47 UK

Russia to appeal to North Korea

Sergei Lavrov
Lavrov is reported to be carrying a letter from the Russian president

Russia's foreign minister has arrived in North Korea, where he is expected to urge the leadership to return to talks on its nuclear disarmament.

The two-day trip by Sergei Lavrov is the first high-level visit since North Korea expelled international monitors from its nuclear facilities.

Pyongyang also vowed to restart its nuclear programme after UN criticism of its recent long-range missile launch.

It is not clear if Mr Lavrov will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Mr Lavrov is expected to focus on trying to persuade Pyongyang to return to six-nation negotiations - which include North and South Korea, China, Russia, the US and Japan.

The Russian foreign minister may deliver a letter from President Dmitri Medvedev to the North Korean leader, according to media reports from Seoul and Moscow.

Monitors expelled

The visit comes at a time of heightened regional tensions due to the North's controversial rocket launch on 5 April, which was widely seen by its neighbours as a disguised missile test.

Feb 2007 - North Korea agrees to close its main nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel aid
June 2007 - North Korea shuts its main Yongbyon reactor
June 2008 - North Korea makes its long-awaited declaration of nuclear assets
Oct 2008 - The US removes North Korea from its list of countries which sponsor terrorism
Dec 2008 - Pyongyang slows work to dismantle its nuclear programme after a US decision to suspend energy aid
Jan 2009 - The North says it is scrapping all military and political deals with the South, accusing it of "hostile intent"
5 April 2009 - Pyongyang launches a rocket carrying what it says is a communications satellite
14 April 2009 - After criticism of the launch from the UN Security Council, North Korea vows to walk out of six-party talks

North Korea says the rocket was carrying a communications satellite.

Following criticism by the UN Security Council, Pyongyang announced it was quitting international disarmament talks and restarting its nuclear programme.

It has expelled US and UN nuclear monitors.

Russia and China have both already urged North Korea to reconsider its decision.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul says that based on its Soviet past, Moscow still has some influence in Pyongyang, but there are limits.

Even North Korea's closest ally, China, was unable to prevent North Korea's 2006 atomic test, or this month's rocket launch.

The six-party talks have stalled in recent months since a landmark deal under which the North agreed to end its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and political incentives.

Last year North Korea partially disabled its Yongbyon reactor and handed over what it said was a complete declaration of its nuclear activities.

In return, the US removed North Korea from the list of countries it says sponsors terrorism.

But talks have broken down, with Washington and Pyongyang accusing each other of failing to meet obligations.

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