- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

SEOUL North Korean leader Kim Jong-il heard a Russian plan for ending his nation's nuclear standoff during talks yesterday with an envoy from Moscow, his first known meeting with a foreign official since the crisis started.
The three-part plan, presented by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov, envisions nuclear-free status for the Korean Peninsula, and written security guarantees and a humanitarian and economic aid package for the impoverished North.
Mr. Losyukov told reporters on a stop in Beijing that he felt "some optimism" after the talks that the nuclear crisis could be resolved peacefully, but he cautioned that his discussions were only a first step in ending the standoff with the United States over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow was briefed in Moscow on the talks by Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov. The U.S. diplomat informed Mr. Mamedov of U.S. envoy James Kelly's recent consultations with Beijing and Seoul during an Asian trip.
While Russian officials were cautious, the Lsyukov talks represented a potential breakthrough, even as U.S. officials sought support for taking the matter to the U.N. Security Council a move that would increase pressure on North Korea, because the council can impose international sanctions.
Russia, apart from China, is one of the communist North's few remaining allies and is seen as key to helping arrange the direct talks that Washington seeks with Pyongyang.
Mr. Kim, who like his father before him rules North Korea with an iron fist, is regarded as the only power in the isolated country who can make any decision on the nuclear issue.
His meeting with Mr. Losyukov apparently was his first with a foreign official since early December, when his country decided to reactivate nuclear facilities frozen under a 1994 energy deal with the United States. It has since expelled monitors from the United Nations and quit a global anti-nuclear treaty.
Mr. Losyukov said Mr. Kim was expected to give his answer on the "package plan" directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
John Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said in Beijing yesterday, after meeting with Chinese officials, that China seems to have no objection to letting the Security Council take up the issue.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell received similar assurances from China's foreign minister in New York, where both attended a U.N. conference on terrorism, a State Department spokesman said.
China, a permanent council member, has veto power on the panel, whose sanctions could further cripple the impoverished North, dependent on handouts to help feed its 22 million people.
Also, South Korea pledged yesterday to push for a peaceful solution in talks this week with North Korea that are officially unrelated to the nuclear issue. The talks include Cabinet-level meetings in Seoul and economic discussions in the North.
The first meetings opened late yesterday between Red Cross officials at the North's Diamond Mountain resort, aimed at setting up a reunion center for families separated by the peninsula's division.
In an apparent effort to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington the South's closest ally the top North Korean diplomat in Hong Kong said that even if his country has nuclear weapons, it would not use them against South Koreans.

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