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2009/04/30 11:14 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 52 (April 30, 2009)

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

Russian Foreign Minister Says N.K. Unwilling to Rejoin Nuclear Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a hectic three-day visit to both South and North Korea last week to discuss pending regional issues, particularly to persuade Pyongyang's return to the stalled six-party nuclear talks. But the minister only witnessed the hard stance of Pyongyang defying the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its recent rocket launch.

   After his trip to Pyongyang, the Russian minister said in Seoul on April 24 that North Korea has no intention to rejoin the six-way talks on its nuclear program, but related nations should continue efforts to persuade Pyongyang to come back to the negotiating table.

   "The situation is very difficult," Lavrov said in a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart, Yu Myung-hwan, after their meeting. "But related nations need to resolve this matter calmly, not emotionally. "North Korea has no intention to return to the six-way talks for now," the foreign minister said. "We need to create conditions for the resumption of the six-way talks. We delivered our position on how to make such conditions to North Korea."

   Lavrov said imposing sanctions on North Korea is "not constructive" at a time when all involved countries should implement their obligations under a landmark aid-for-denuclearization deal signed in 2005.

   He arrived in Seoul earlier in the day after a two-day trip to Pyongyang on a mission to help revive the stalled disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

   The minister was the first high-level foreign official to visit North Korea since its April 5 rocket launch and the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of it. The North claimed the launch was aimed at sending a communications satellite into orbit, but the U.S. and its allies believe it was part of a long-range missile test.

   In his meetings with North Korea's No. 2 leader Kim Yong-nam and its foreign minister Pak Ui-chun, Lavrov said he proposed that North Korea use its territory for a satellite launch in line with Moscow's policy of cooperating with other nations on peaceful space programs. Watchers doubted that North Korea will accept the proposal.

   He confirmed he did not meet the North's top leader, Kim Jong-il. It is unusual for a visiting Russian foreign minister to skip a meeting with Kim. Lavrov met him when he traveled to Pyongyang in 2004. It was still unclear why Kim did not meet Lavrov, but some speculated North Korea rejected the minister's request for a meeting because it was displeased by Moscow's approval of the Security Council's statement.

   South Korean Foreign Minister Yu said he and Lavrov shared concern over the North's action and reaffirmed that the six-way talks are a useful framework for denuclearization. "The two sides agreed to cooperate closely to get North Korea to return to the six-way talks and move forward discussions on denuclearization," Yu said.

   The six-nation talks have been stalled since late last year over how to verify North Korea's past nuclear activities, but Pyongyang earlier this month said it will boycott the nuclear negotiations following the U.N. Security Council's issuance of a presidential statement condemning the communist state for its launch of a long-range rocket.

   The U.N. sanctions committee on April 25 blacklisted three North Korean firms, including a bank, for sanctions on suspicion of proliferation activities.

   In Pyongyang, North Korea claimed April 24 that Russia has reaffirmed its objection to U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang for its recent rocket launch.

   Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov delivered the position to his North Korean counterpart in their latest talks in Pyongyang on April 23, a spokesman at the North's foreign ministry was quoted as saying by its official Korean Central News Agency. "The two sides agreed that a satellite launch is the sovereign right of every country," the unidentified spokesman said.

   The Russian side reaffirmed that it is opposed to U.N. sanctions against North Korea and listened to the North's position that the six-way nuclear talks are no longer necessary, the spokesman added. The brief report gave no other details, including what kind of U.N. sanctions the Russian minister referred to.

   The U.S. and Japan had initially pushed for a new U.N. Security Council resolution to impose fresh sanctions on the North, considering its April 5 launch as part of its advanced intercontinental ballistic missile test.

   But China and Russia blocked the initiative, backing North Korea's claim that it attempted to send a communications satellite into orbit. The North argued that it was successful, while the U.S. military said all the three stages of the rocket tumbled into the Pacific Ocean.

   The regional powers reached a compromise on a U.N. Security Council presidential statement calling for U.N. member states to impose sanctions under the existing U.N. resolution adopted after the North's missile and nuclear tests in 2006.

   Meanwhile, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called on Russia on April 25 to persuade North Korea to come back to the six-way nuclear disarmament talks amid the North's threats to boycott them.

   The call came in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister. "I wish Russia will continue to play an important role in trying to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through the six-party talks," Lee told Lavrov.

   A spokesman for the North's foreign ministry said on April 25 the country has begun reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods, a move aimed at producing plutonium that can be used to build nuclear weapons.

   Lavrov said Russia, too, had opposed the North's firing of a long-range rocket, and that it will work to have the nuclear talks resumed at an early date, according to Lee Dong-kwan, a spokesman for the South Korean presidential office.

   "But he (Lavrov) expressed opposition to imposing sanctions on North Korea, saying North Korea is like an 'isolated fortress' and that the countries must not react too emotionally," the spokesman said in a statement.