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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia heads for N. Korea nuke talks with "cautious optimism"

RIA Novosti

30/01/2007 11:26 MOSCOW, January 30 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian delegation is going to Beijing for a new round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program with "cautious optimism," a deputy foreign minister said Tuesday.

"The agreement to hold a new round of [six-party] talks shows that there are positive signs of progress in the positions of some participants," said Alexander Losyukov, the head of the Russian delegation at the talks.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry earlier announced that the talks on North Korea's nuclear program will resume February 8.

"The third stage of the fifth round of the six-nation talks will open in Beijing February 8," Jiang Yu, an official spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a briefing Tuesday.

The negotiations, which involve the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the United States, were launched in 2003 to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions.

In September 2005, North Korea signed a "joint statement" committing itself to abandoning its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

But the reclusive Communist state boycotted the process two months later following Washington's demand that its accounts at a Macau-based bank be frozen for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. dollars. Since then, North Korea has conducted its first nuclear test and tested ballistic missiles.

The talks resumed in December 2006, following a 13-month standoff, but ended without result. At a symbolic ceremony, the six participating delegations made a joint statement reiterating their commitment to further negotiations in the same format.

Pyongyang earlier insisted that the possibility of scrapping its nuclear program can only be discussed once financial sanctions are lifted, but reportedly agreed to take steps towards nuclear disarmament following talks between North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan and U.S. envoy Christopher Hill in Berlin, raising hopes for progress and a quick resumption of the talks.

"We are going to Beijing next week with cautious optimism," the Russian diplomat said, adding that progress in the negotiations would depend on the participants' willingness to meet each other halfway.

The U.S. and North Korea are currently holding closed consultations in Beijing on the issue of financial sanctions in an attempt to remove the major stumbling bloc in the negotiation process, while South Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Chun Yung-woo, is planning to visit Moscow January 31 ahead of the six-party talks.

"We plan to discuss measures related to the six-nation talks," the South Korean Foreign Ministry said on its Web site. "In Moscow, chief delegate Chun Yung-woo plans to focus on proposals to move toward specific, practical results of the talks."

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