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Russia envoy says 'successful' talks with N. Korea
By Jane Macartney and Richard Balmforth

SEOUL/MOSCOW, Jan 20 (Reuters) - A Russian envoy said after six hours of talks on Monday with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il he was optimistic the nuclear standoff between Pyongyang and Washington could be resolved peacefully.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov emerged from the talks at a heavily guarded residence on the northern outskirts of Pyongyang to describe them as successful, but offered no details, said Russia's Itar-Tass news agency.

"The meeting was very substantive. The atmosphere was very warm," Losyukov said as he left to return to the Russian Embassy. "Moscow is optimistic that a solution to the crisis around North Korea can be found through peaceful means," he was quoted as saying.

Moscow was counting on further contacts to hammer out the details of a possible solution to the crisis, the Tass news agency cited him as saying.

Losyukov's remarks were one of several indications in recent days of a possible breakthrough in an impasse that began in October when Washington said the North admitted to a secret nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang later ejected U.N. nuclear inspectors, removed the seals from a mothballed reactor and pulled out of a global treaty to help prevent the spread of nuclear arms.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Monday that some "interesting elements" had emerged in the search for a diplomatic solution to end North Korea's nuclear programs, without elaborating on those developments.

Speaking after a U.N. counterterrorism meeting, Powell told reporters he was in close contact with allies in the region.

"As (U.S.) President (George W.) Bush has said repeatedly, we have no intention of invading or attacking (North Korea) and we are looking for a diplomatic solution and there have been some interesting elements that have come forward," he said.

U.S. officials have cited some progress in easing the nuclear crisis, the latest indication Washington had moved away from its hard line of "no talks" now that the standoff has become a distraction as it prepares for a possible war against Iraq.

A suggestion by a senior U.S. official that the crisis should be brought before the U.N. Security Council placed added pressure on Pyongyang to fall into line.

The United States is searching for a diplomatic solution to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, but has threatened Iraq with war if it fails to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.


Losyukov presented Pyongyang with a set of three proposals that call for the Korean peninsula to be nuclear-free in exchange for guarantees of the North's security and the resumption of aid to the impoverished communist state.

"We put forward our ideas on what a compromise solution to the current crisis could look like. The Korean side constructively and attentively considered these proposals," Losyukov was quoted as saying.

"This work cannot stop at one round of talks and demands a significant amount of time, the comparison of positions and contacts with other sides in the conflict, including the United States."

He was believed to have given Kim, leader of the world's only communist dynasty, a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Itar-Tass said. Russia is one of the few countries to maintain close ties with Pyongyang. Kim has visited Russia twice in recent years and Putin has made one trip to Pyongyang.

The Russian envoy, the first foreign diplomat to meet Kim since the crisis began, was due to return to Beijing on Tuesday.

U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton, in Beijing for talks with Pyongyang's other main friend, said it was time to take the standoff to the U.N. Security Council and that the council could handle the Korea problem as well as the Iraq crisis.

"I think it is now timely to bring the matter to the Security Council and I think we're confident that it could handle both Iraq and North Korea at the same time," he said after meeting Chinese officials.

Bolton said he did not sense that China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, was opposed to taking the issue to the council.

Taking the issue to the Security Council could be the first step to imposing sanctions on North Korea, but Bolton said he had not discussed sanctions in Beijing and sanctions were not the only weapon in the Security Council's arsenal.


North Korea has said sanctions would be tantamount to a declaration of war and has insisted the United States, which a year ago grouped the North with Iraq and Iran in an "axis of evil," is key to resolving the standoff.

"The nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula was created by the United States and must be wholly resolved with us and the United States sitting knee-to-knee," the Korean Central News Agency quoted one official as telling Losyukov.

In an apparent bid to drive a wedge between South Korea and the U.S. troops who have guarded it since the 1950-53 Korean War, Pyongyang's consul-general in Hong Kong told a newspaper that North Korea had no intention of attacking the South.

"If the United States attacks us, we'll only go after our enemy," the Chinese-language Ming Pao daily cited the diplomat, Ri To Sop, as saying.

"We and South Korea are of the same lineage and the same country, we share the same language and culture. There's no reason for us to harm our relationship with South Korea," he said, but repeated Pyongyang's threat to declare war if the United States imposed sanctions.

The North has 11,000 artillery pieces trained toward Seoul across the most heavily fortified frontier on Earth.

(Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Beijing and Lori Santos in Washington)

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