South Korea pledged on Monday to use separate rounds of talks with North Korea this week to push for a diplomatic solution to Pyongyang's impasse with the United States over nuclear weapons development.

Also on Monday, Reuters reported that a Russian special envoy had arrived in Pyongyang for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

The Korean talks — including Cabinet-level meetings in Seoul and Red Cross discussions in the North — come as South Korea intensifies its efforts to avert an escalation of the standoff and persuade the North to drop its nuclear ambitions.

In Beijing, meanwhile, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security John Bolton met with Chinese officials for what he called "a long day of consultations."

The first set of North-South talks were to start later Monday when Red Cross officials from both sides were to 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, but South Korea wants to use them to appeal to the North to address the nuclear issue.

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.

"Through various South-North contacts, the government will directly deliver our and international concerns over the North's nuclear issue and urge them to actively resolve the problem," said Park Sun-sook, chief spokesman for President Kim Dae-jung.

"Inter-Korean exchanges which continue despite complicated situations help ease concerns, to some extent, at home and abroad," she said.

Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, who handles inter-Korean affairs, said last week that South Korea would use every opportunity to press the North on its nuclear plans.

The meetings starting Monday continue contacts between the divided Koreas that began during the historic summit of their leaders in 2000.

It was unclear how much success the South would have in bringing up the nuclear issue with the North, since Pyongyang sees the impasse as a matter between itself and the United States.

The current dispute began in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted to developing nuclear weapons in violation of the 1994 agreement, and Washington suspended fuel shipments. The North then expelled U.N. inspectors, reactivated nuclear facilities and withdrew from a global anti-nuclear pact.

In Beijing, Bolton spoke briefly with reporters on Monday before going into talks with Wang Guangya, a Chinese vice foreign minister, but would not discuss in detail what was on the agenda. He heads to Seoul on Tuesday and then Japan later in the week.

"We're going to have a long day of consultations on a wide range of strategic issues and I'll defer any comment until we've had the consultation," Bolton said.

Arriving in Beijing on Sunday, Bolton said he would continue talks about issues discussed at an October summit meeting in Texas between President Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Bolton's visit comes as the Bush administration was portraying the escalation of North Korea's nuclear activities as an international threat and signaled its intention to take the dispute to the U.N. Security Council.

Secretary of State Colin Powell met in New York with Foreign Ministers Tang Jiaxuan of China and Dominique de Villepin of France and they agreed that North Korea's resumption of a nuclear weapons program and its decision to quit the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty posed an international problem, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Sunday.

The United States intends to bring the North Korean issue to the U.N. Security Council, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. The Council could deepen North Korea's economic problems with international sanctions.

South Korea was also moving ahead on other fronts. South Korea's President-elect decided Monday to dispatch two senior officials from his pro-government Millennium Democratic Party — Lee Hae-chan and Cho Sun-hyung — as special envoys to China and Russia to seek help, said Roh's spokesman Lee Nak-yon. The date of the visits has yet to be set.