Russian envoy, N. Korea leader talk

Moscow diplomat voices optimism on ending crisis

January 21, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SEOUL, South Korea -- A Russian diplomat held six hours of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il yesterday and said he was optimistic about a peaceful resolution of the nuclear weapons crisis.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov presented Kim with a three-part proposal: a pledge by North Korea to honor its previous commitment to remain nuclear-free; a guarantee of North Korea's future security and sovereignty; and humanitarian and economic aid.

The Russian envoy told the Russian Itar-Tass news agency that the meeting was "very substantive" and the atmosphere "very warm."

The United States welcomed the Russian initiative. The Bush administration has said that China, Russia and other countries should work with the United States to convince Pyongyang to back down from its threat to produce nuclear weapons.

North Korea is believed to have as many as two crude nuclear weapons.

In a 1994 agreement it promised to end its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for help in meeting its energy needs.

But in October North Korean officials told a U.S. diplomat that their country had restarted a uranium-enrichment program, a violation of the 1994 agreement.

In Beijing, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said yesterday after meetings with Chinese officials that he believed China would support tough actions by the U.N. Security Council to punish Pyongyang for stepping out of its agreement not to produce nuclear materials.

Bolton said the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected later this week to refer the crisis to the Security Council, which could call for economic sanctions or military action.

Bolton said the United States concluded that the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, has done all it can to try to bring North Korea into compliance with international agreements. North Korea has ignored two IAEA resolutions. It is time for the Security Council to take over, Bolton said.

Bolton said sending the matter to the Security Council would not necessarily mean sanctions, hinting that the United States would propose something less, at least initially.

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