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(LEAD) Russia 'very critical' of N. Korea's nuclear program: official
SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- Russia is "very critical" of North Korea's uranium enrichment program (UEP), but any concrete steps toward dealing with it will have to be weighed against the country's relations with other key nations, Seoul's ambassador to Moscow said Monday.

   "Russia is very critical of the nuclear program. This is an unmistakable fact," Amb. Lee Youn-ho told reporters in Seoul. "Regarding the UEP issue, Russia will want to consider its relations not only with North Korea, but also with China, the United States and South Korea before deciding on a direction that best suits its national interests," he said, stressing Russia's consideration of China's stance on the issue.

   South Korea has been pushing for the issue to be discussed at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) ever since the North revealed its UEP last November, claiming to be enriching uranium only to generate power.

   Seoul and Washington say it is a clear violation of previous UNSC resolutions that ban the North from running such nuclear facilities. They fear that the uranium, if highly enriched, will be used to build atomic bombs and add to the North's existing plutonium-based program.

   Backing from the UNSC's five veto-wielding members is crucial for any discussion of the subject at the global body, and Russia has said it is not opposed to the idea. China, meanwhile, has been openly reluctant, apparently fearing the negative consequences it could have on the already unstable Pyongyang regime.

   "Russia retains the pride of a world power and its position is that it wants to make constructive contributions toward solving the issue within a multilateral framework. That is why it places a large importance on the U.N.," the ambassador said.

   Despite expressing concerns about the facility, Beijing has insisted that the issue be discussed at six-party denuclearization talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.

   Seoul has retorted that no progress on the North's denuclearization will be possible at the talks unless the U.N. first defines the illegal nature of Pyongyang's uranium program and preempts the North from claiming its use for peaceful purposes.

   South Korea has also urged Pyongyang to take concrete steps demonstrating its denuclearization commitments, saying that only then can the nuclear talks reopen. Seoul has proposed bilateral nuclear talks with the communist nation to discuss the issue, but the North has not responded to the offer.

   On Monday, a senior South Korean official told reporters that the demands do not necessarily mean that Pyongyang should express its denuclearization commitment only in talks with the South.

   "The reason we want to hold denuclearization talks with the North is because we want to rectify the North's behavioral pattern of trying to have denuclearization talks only with the U.S.," the official said. "That does not necessarily mean" that the North should express its denuclearization commitment only in inter-Korean talks, he said.

   The official also stressed that South Korea is always open to holding talks with the North regarding last year's two deadly attacks and Pyongyang's denuclearization.

   North Korea has refused to discuss the nuclear standoff with the South and demanded direct talks with the U.S., claiming it developed nuclear weapons to counter what it claims are "U.S. nuclear threats" and therefore the issue should be discussed with Washington.

   hague@yna.co.kr
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