Russia welcomes US 'change of tone' on N Korea


Russia has welcomed what it called a change of tone in US diplomacy toward North Korea today, after Washington said prospects looked better for talks to end the nuclear standoff.

The US President, Mr George W. Bush, said yesterday Washington was making "good progress" with Pyongyang after North Korea eased demands for direct talks, saying it would consider any form of dialogue in exchange for a bold change in US policy.

"Regarding statements by President Bush, we of course welcome this change of tone," Deputy Foreign Minister Mr Alexander Losyukov was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying. "We hope this will lead to progress."

Russia, which shares a tiny border with North Korea, is one of few countries thought to wield some diplomatic influence with the isolated Stalinist state.

Mr Losyukov, who in January headed Russia's only mission to Pyongyang since the row broke out last year, said Russia was ready to participate in international discussions.

"We will actively use these opportunities, because a conflict on the Korean peninsula would not be in Russia's interests at all," he said.

Moscow, North Korea's key sponsor during most of the Cold War, has consistently pushed for talks while steering clear of an official role as mediator in the crisis.

The nuclear row broke out in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted reviving its nuclear arms program. Pyongyang, dubbed by Washington part of an "axis of evil" states seeking banned weapons, denies the charges.