- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

MOSCOW, Jan. 28 (UPI) — North Korea has rejected a Russian proposal to mediate the North Korean nuclear crisis by setting up negotiations through the so-called five-plus-five group, insisting on direct negotiations with the United States, according to a formal statement released Tuesday by North Korea's Embassy in Moscow.

"We categorically oppose all attempts to internationalize the nuclear question on the Korean peninsula and in this connection we state that we will not take part in 'multilateral talks' in any form," the statement said.

"The only means for a peaceful and fair resolution of the nuclear question … is direct negotiations at an equal level between North Korea and the United States, face to face at the negotiating table. There cannot be any other way," the statement said.

Under a plan proposed by Russia last week, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Russia, Britain, France, China, and the United States — would work with North Korea, South Korea, Australia, Japan, and the European Union in an attempt to negotiate an end to the current crisis.

At the end of last year, North Korea pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and expelled inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency while threatening to restart its nuclear program after the United States suspended fuel aid to the Stalinist regime.

Washington had been supplying fuel to North Korea under the terms of the 1994 Agreed Framework in return for an arms accord under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze development of its nuclear program.

North Korea insists the United States must provide security guarantees and resume fuel shipments, while Washington is demanding that North Korea make the first move and shut down its nuclear program. Japan and South Korea, alarmed by increasing tensions, had asked Russia to intervene in the crisis as mediator.

Under President Vladimir Putin's rule, Moscow has re-established close ties with the Pyongyang regime and was seen as well placed to help defuse the crisis through negotiations. But Korea-watching analysts warned that Russia's level of influence on North Korea is limited.

Last week, Putin sent a special envoy to Pyongyang for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to discuss the proposed five-plus-five plan, which has now been rejected.

The envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov, warned on his return from Pyongyang that the continuing standoff between North Korea and the United States could lead to "a very bad situation on the Korean peninsula, perhaps even armed conflict between North Korea and the United States."

Losyukov said he believed North Korea's determination to stand firm in the face of Washington's threats of sanctions was real.

"These statements aren't hollow words. North Korea could take measures that would cause problems for certain countries," Losyukov told Russian television, without going into detail.

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