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Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006

Speed six-party talks, departing Russian envoy says


Staff writer

The departing Russian ambassador to Japan urged Monday that international talks over North Korea's nuclear weapons threat be accelerated.

"Now we can't keep talking at a slow pace, as has been the case with the six-party talks" thus far, said Alexander Losyukov, who will soon return to Moscow after serving as ambassador since March 2004.

"In one or two years, the situation will be worse, and the danger of conflicts will increase" if the talks continue at their current pace, Losyukov said through an interpreter at a news conference at the Japan National Press Club.

Before his posting to Japan, Losyukov served as deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator to the six-party talks, which brings together Russia, Japan, the United States, China and the two Koreas. The other parties have been trying for several years to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms program and the weapons it is already believed to possess, so far to no avail.

Losyukov also said the next round of six-party talks, the first since North Korea began boycotting the talks, may take place early next month.

According to media reports, Losyukov is expected to be reappointed as Russia's chief negotiator to the talks.

He confirmed at the news conference he "may return to the talks as a participant in the negotiation."

Losyukov noted that during his previous stint as negotiator, Pyongyang insisted it had no nuclear weapons or weapons program.

"The situation has radically changed," he said, pointing to Pyongyang's Oct. 9 declared nuclear test.

"Now North Korea says it is a nuclear state, and that it will defend itself with nuclear (weapons)," Losyukov said.

The major outstanding issue between Tokyo and Moscow remains the territorial dispute over the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, a problem that showed little sign of being resolved during Losyukov's stint.

Losyukov blamed rigid public opinion both in Japan and Russia that leaves little room for compromise.

"Japanese public opinion has forced (the government) to maintain an extreme position," said Losyukov, urging the mass media to suggest that people change their stance.

The Soviet Union seized the four islands from Japan in the closing days of World War II, expelling 17,000 Japanese residents. The dispute has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty formally ending wartime hostilities.



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