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Russia envoy sees hope after meeting Kim

Beijing/Seoul, Jan. 21 (Reuters): A Russian envoy said today he saw hope of a solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis after a rare meeting with reclusive leader Kim Jong-il, although more talks would be needed.

Raising the stakes for Pyongyang, however, were US suggestions that it was time the UN Security Council weighed in on the standoff to pile pressure on Kim to abandon his nuclear ambitions.

Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Losyukov held six hours of talks yesterday with Kim, becoming the first foreign envoy to meet the leader of the isolated Communist state since the crisis erupted last October.

Passing through Beijing, Losyukov described his talks with Kim during a three-day visit to Pyongyang as “very useful and rather constructive”, but declined to give details.

“But generally speaking, I think that there is some optimism and the problems can be resolved providing the preparedness of the sides involved,” he said in English.

The impasse has sparked a flurry of diplomatic initiatives and US officials have cited some progress, an indication that Washington has shifted from its hard line of “no talks” now that the standoff has become a distraction as it prepares for a possible war against Iraq.

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.

But he has said a final deal would require more talks.

Officials of South and North Korea were due to open a fresh round of ministerial-level talks this week in Seoul at which the South has said it will take the opportunity to make clear to the North that it must end to its nuclear brinkmanship.

US undersecretary of state John Bolton arrived in Seoul after visiting Beijing where he raised the pressure on Pyongyang by saying that it was time to take the matter to the UN Security Council and that the council could handle the Korea problem as well as the Iraq crisis.

“We think the Council is the appropriate place to be,” Bolton said at Seoul’s international airport. “It’s the body charged with matters dealing with international peace and security. It makes a lot of sense to be there.”

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

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