Russia Still Pushing for North Korea Disarmament

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Russia launched a mission Thursday to
try to get North Korea back into international disarmament talks,
sending its top diplomat to Pyongyang after the North announced it
would restart its nuclear program.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in North Korea for a
two-day visit, North's Korean Central News Agency reported in a
brief dispatch. The ITAR-Tass news agency said the nuclear standoff
was expected to dominate Lavrov's trip, and that he may meet later
Thursday with leader Kim Jong Il.

North Korea last week expelled all international monitors of its
plutonium-producing facilities, vowed to restart them and quit
six-nation disarmament talks, after the U.N. Security Council
condemned its April 5 rocket launch and called for expanded
sanctions.

Pyongyang says the rebuke is unfair because the liftoff was a
peaceful satellite launch. But the U.S. and others believe it was a
test of long-range missile technology.

Lavrov is expected to focus on trying to persuade the North to
return to the nuclear negotiating table. South Korean and Russian
media reports said he could meet with the North's reclusive leader
and deliver a letter from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said
earlier this week that the North could restart its nuclear
facilities within months - a move that could lead to production of
weapons-grade plutonium.

North Korea's relations are not as close with Russia as they
were during Soviet times, but the two sides maintain cordial ties.
Moscow is a member of the six-party nuclear talks and usually
avoids openly criticizing Pyongyang.

"A threat of sanctions to North Korea is counterproductive,"
ITAR-Tass quoted Lavrov as saying, without specifying the time or
place of his comments.

He also said all the parties in the nuclear talks should stick
to their obligations. "There are commitments taken by North Korea
and there are commitments taken by the other participants in the
six-way talks," Lavrov said, according to ITAR-Tass.

Under a 2007 six-party deal, North Korea agreed to disable its
main nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang in return for 1
million tons of fuel oil and other concessions. In June 2008, North
Korea blew up the cooling tower there in a dramatic show of its
commitment to denuclearization.

But disablement came to halt a month later as Pyongyang wrangled
with Washington over how to verify its past atomic activities. The
latest round of talks, in December, failed to push the process
forward.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the
U.S. is working on trying to get Pyongyang's decision reversed.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a House hearing
that Washington is ready to resume the nuclear talks and that she
thinks the "strong support that we see among the parties against
what North Korea is doing will eventually yield fruit."

"We have to be strong, patient, persistent, and not give in to
the kind of back-and-forth ... the unpredictable behavior of the
North Korean regime," Clinton said.

Lavrov also plans to visit South Korea on Friday after the North
Korean trip.

Tensions on the divided peninsula have also been running high.
The two sides held their first official dialogue Tuesday since
Seoul's conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office last year,
but the meeting ended without progress.

North Korea rejected the South's request for the release of a
Seoul worker being held at a joint industrial zone in Kaesong, just
north of the border, for allegedly denouncing Pyongyang's political
system. The North also demanded the South pay more to use the
factory park.

Relations between the two Koreas have frayed badly as North
Korea has denounced the South Korean government's tougher stance.
It cut off reconciliation talks and suspended key joint projects,
leaving the industrial zone as the only major remaining project.


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