SEOUL, South Korea – A top Russian diplomat said talks Monday with North Korea's leader made progress toward ending the nuclear weapons crisis but warned a resolution would take time.
In meetings with President Kim Jong Il, Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov presented Russia's "package plan," the latest effort to end a standoff with Washington triggered by North Korea's admitted development of nuclear weapons.
The three-part plan envisions nuclear-free status for the Korean peninsula, security guarantees for North Korea and a package of humanitarian and economic aid.
Russia -- along with China -- is one of the communist North's few remaining allies and seen as instrumental in ending the crisis or brokering talks between Pyongyang and the United States, which withdrew energy aid from the North because of its nuclear ambitions.
The security guarantees must be written pledges, the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass quoted Losyukov as saying. He also said Kim would give his answer directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Losyukov was quoted as saying the "talks had been very substantive" and "successful." He described the atmosphere of his six-hour talks with Kim as "very warm" but cautioned they were only a first step.
"This work cannot be limited to one round of contacts and will require considerable time, comparison of positions, discussion with other participants of the conflict, in particular the United States," Losyukov said, according to ITAR-Tass.
North Korea's state-run news agency, KCNA, reported that Losyukov met Jo Myong Rok, the vice marshal of the Korean People's Army, and other military officials.
The dispute began in October when the United States said Pyongyang had admitted to developing nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 energy agreement. Washington suspended fuel shipments in response, and the North then expelled U.N. inspectors, reactivated nuclear facilities and withdrew from a global anti-nuclear treaty.
The United States pushed its efforts Monday to send the dispute to the U.N. Security Council, which could deepen North Korea's economic problems with international sanctions.
A U.S. envoy in Beijing said Chinese officials appeared willing to go along with that plan.
"I do not detect any substantial opposition to bringing the matter into the council," U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said after all-day meetings with Chinese officials.
Attending a U.N. conference in New York on terrorism, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with foreign ministers Tang Jiaxuan of China and Dominique de Villepin of France.
Powell found "recognition by all that Korea's nuclearization has caused an international problem, and they discussed how the international community can respond," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
In other developments, South Korea pledged Monday to use separate rounds of talks with North Korea this week to push for a diplomatic solution.
Also, the South's President-elect Roh Moo-hyun decided to send senior party officials as envoys to China and Russia to seek help, a spokesman said. A date was not set.
North-South talks are to start later Monday when Red Cross officials from both sides meet at the North's Diamond Mountain resort, South Korea's Red Cross society said in a statement.
The official aim of the three-day meetings is to discuss setting up a reunion center for Korean families separated by the division of the peninsula.
South Korea wants the meetings to address the nuclear issue, although Pyongyang sees the impasse as a matter between itself and the United States.
That message will also be delivered later in the week in inter-Korean Cabinet-level meetings in Seoul, North-South economic meetings and prominent civilian talks in Pyongyang.
North Korea, through its official news agency KCNA, repeated its demand Monday for a "legal document" from the United States guaranteeing that Washington would not attack. A U.S. official has suggested the United States could provide a written guarantee that it has no military intentions, but Washington has refused to negotiate a treaty with Pyongyang.
The same dispatch also dismissed as a "hypocritical farce" recent U.S. proposals to talk with the North if it gives up its nuclear program. Pyongyang wants such talks to be without conditions.
In Australia, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Monday that a delegation sent last week to North Korea for talks had made good progress.
"I have a greater level of optimism that this issue can be resolved than before the delegation went ... they've made a very important contribution to ensuring the Korean peninsula remains peaceful," Downer said.