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Moscow, Seoul Agree Close Cooperation On North Korea

Lavrov (facing camera) and Ban at today's meeting 3 July 2004 -- Russia and South Korea say they will closely cooperate in talks aimed at defusing the crisis over North Korea's nuclear-weapons development.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his South Korean counterpart Ban Ki-moon made the comments after meeting in the South Korean capital Seoul today.

Lavrov said the nuclear crisis should be resolved in a way that gives North Korea "solid" security guarantees and help to develop its shattered economy.

"Through six-nation talks, we want to ensure the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula -- so there will be no nuclear weapons on the peninsula -- coupled with solid security guarantees and economic aid for North Korea," Lavrov added.

South Korea's Ban said he asked Lavrov to persuade the North to accept benefits in return for completely dismantling its nuclear program.

"We asked Russia to persuade North Korea to abandon its plans to develop nuclear weapons on its own and that dismantling its plans to develop nuclear weapons is better in the case that they want to receive security guarantees," Ban said.

Lavrov's meeting in Seoul came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun met in Indonesia in the highest-level talks between those two countries in two years.

Consultations on ending the nuclear standoff will continue tomorrow when Lavrov flies to North Korea's capital Pyongyang.

The crisis began in October 2002 when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it was secretly developing nuclear weapons, in violation of international nonproliferation agreements.

The United States, the two Koreas, Japan, China, and Russia have since held three rounds of talks in Beijing but have yet to reach a deal to halt the North's development of nuclear weapons.

At the most recent round of talks last week, the United States said Pyongyang could be given energy aid if it freezes its nuclear program.

The United States previously insisted that North Korea completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program before getting any concessions.

North Korea rejected the U.S. proposal, and participants in the talks agreed only to meet again by the end of September.

(with news agency reports)

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