- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

SEOUL South Korea won a promise from Russia yesterday to press North Korea about its nuclear program, as Seoul prepared to deliver to the United States new proposals aimed at defusing the crisis with its communist neighbor.
As the South began a diplomatic blitz, the North opened the door to mediation, though it denounced the United States and it said it would heighten its combat readiness.
In Moscow one of the isolated North's few allies South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Hang-kyung met with his Russian counterpart, Alexander Losyukov.
Mr. Losyukov said after the talks that Moscow and Seoul "agreed to make joint efforts to ease the crisis" and persuade the parties to sit down for talks, though he stopped short of promising Russian mediation.
"The slide to unacceptable actions must be stopped," Mr. Losyukov was quoted as saying by the Russian news agency Interfax. "Obviously, our contacts with North Korean colleagues will be intensified."
A separate team of South Korean diplomats was expected to present a compromise solution to the United States and Japan today and tomorrow, when the three allies meet in Washington to chart a joint strategy on North Korea. Seoul said it will send a presidential envoy to the United States for more talks later this week.
No details have been disclosed on the South's proposals, but they are expected to call for North Korean concessions on nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees.
The standoff began when North Korea announced last month that it was reviving its main nuclear complex, which had been frozen since a 1994 deal with the United States, and forced international inspectors to leave the site. Experts believe the complex can be used to produce several nuclear weapons within months.
The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board of governors planned to hold an emergency session today to review the nuclear crisis.
A senior AEA official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the agency almost certainly would refer the dispute to the U.N. Security Council later today. Such a move could lead to sanctions or other actions against Pyongyang.
North Korea's top military brass vowed in a meeting in the capital yesterday to increase the communist army's combat readiness. A separate statement from the official Korean Central News Agency accused the United States of trying to disarm the North and called the United States the "main obstacle" to Korean reunification.
But North Korea left open the possibility of other countries mediating the dispute an apparent nod to Seoul's diplomatic attempts.
Japan and the United States have agreed to pursue a diplomatic resolution, Japan's Foreign Ministry said after telephone talks between Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell late Saturday.
After his closed-door meeting with the Korean diplomat, Mr. Losyukov said it was important to get all sides to the negotiating table. He said Moscow and Seoul opposed putting the issue before the Security Council "before other possibilities for negotiating have been used up."

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