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Russia pledges help over NKorea nuclear row
By Clara Ferreira-Marques

MOSCOW, Jan 5 (Reuters) - South Korea said on Sunday Russia had pledged to use its influence with North Korea to defuse Pyongyang's nuclear standoff with Washington.

It also said Seoul would send a top envoy on the crisis to Washington and Tokyo this week.

"The Russians said they would try their best to use their channel to North Korea," South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hang-kyung said between talks with senior Russian officials.

"They will talk to North Korea and discuss (a peaceful end to the crisis) with them," said Kim, who earlier held more than two hours of talks with the Russian Foreign Ministry's top Asia expert, Alexander Losyukov.

Kim said he was unaware of any plans by Russia to send its own envoy to Pyongyang, but Losyukov, a deputy foreign minister, appeared to rule that out.

"I would not call this mediation. I would call this diplomatic work on different levels," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Russia, which has condemned "emotional outbursts" against Pyongyang -- a clear jibe at the United States -- is the only member of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations with good ties to both North and South Korea.

President Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to Pyongyang in 2000 and has met secretive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at least twice since. Seoul hopes that Moscow, having breathed new life into ties with its Cold War-era ally, will be able to engineer a way out of the crisis.

Kim's visit was part of a broader diplomatic push by Seoul, which said on Sunday it would send Yim Sung-joon, presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security, to Washington from Tuesday to Thursday.

Yim will visit Tokyo on Friday and Saturday. Seoul is believed to be pushing a three-point plan in which poverty-stricken North Korea is guaranteed security and fuel oil in return for an end to any nuclear weapons programme.


North Korea, which has thousands of artillery pieces pointed at the South Korean capital, described the standoff as "very serious and unpredictable."

"(North Korea) has consistently proposed dialogue with the U.S. without preconditions and conclusion of a non-aggression treaty with the U.S. There is no change in the (North Korean) stand to settle the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula in a peaceful way," the KCNA state news agency said.

For South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and president-elect Roh, who swept to power on a wave of passionate anti-American sentiment, Pyongyang's brinkmanship presents the task of coordinating diplomatic efforts involving the United States, China, Russia, Japan and, most recently, France.

Another South Korean delegation is due to present Seoul's latest proposals at talks in Washington on Monday with the United States and Japan ahead of a visit to Seoul by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly next week.

Washington cut off oil supplies to North Korea after Pyongyang said in October it had a covert nuclear programme.

North Korea then kicked out U.N. atomic energy inspectors monitoring a nuclear complex mothballed under a 1994 deal in which Pyongyang had agreed to end such work in exchange for fuel oil from the United States and its allies.

North Korea restarted a reactor at the complex, saying it was acting in self-defence but that it was still willing to talk to Washington and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

An IAEA source said the agency would likely suggest giving North Korea another chance to cooperate and allow inspectors back in before it takes the matter to the U.N. Security Council. The IAEA meet on Monday.

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