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U.S. Diplomat: Russia 'In Denial' About N. Korea Threat

Russia is in denial about the dangers posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and should join the United States in putting pressure on Pyongyang to reimpose a freeze, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow said Thursday.

"We think they have leverage," Alexander Vershbow said. President Vladimir Putin has good relations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and "we hope the Russians will pressure him to calm down," Vershbow said.

On another issue, the U.S. ambassador said the Russian military was resisting attempts by the U.S. and Russian governments to work togther on missile defenses.

Vershbow said he "regretted hearing echoes of the past from the Russian military" after President Bush and Putin agreed at two summit meetings to cooperate in building missile defenses.

North Korea's weapons programs typify the kind of emerging threat that Russia would want to protect itself against, he said.

Vershbow and other U.S. ambasasadors to European capitals were in Washington for briefings from senior Bush administration officials.

Assessing Putin, who now is in his third year on the job, Vershbow said the Russian president had restored stability to the country, presided over steady economic growth and adopted a "turn to the West" policy as best for his country.

But the U.S. ambassador said there were some areas of concern to the Bush administration, including only "shallow support" in the Russian military for an ongoing reform program and false accusations that Peace Corps workers in Russia were engaged in espionage.

Vershbow said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage would go to Moscow in two weeks to work on counter-terrorism measures with Russian officials.

On North Korea, Vershbow said "we think Russia has got to get past the denial stage and join us in putting pressure" on Pyongyang.

A senior U.S. official said, meanwhile, that the decision of the International Atomic Energy Agency this week to give North Korea one last chance to freeze its programs was based on the views of Russia and a few other countries.

The United States preferred taking the dispute to the U.N. Security Council, which could have considered applying economic sanctions against Pyongyang, said the official on condition of anonymity.

The official said Undersecretary of State John Bolton, on trips to Moscow, had provided Russia with a "declassified account" of North Korea's uranium enrichment program and its attempts to acquire nuclear technology from other countries.

The official said there was no evidence Russia had helped North Korea since ending its support a decade ago.

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