MOSCOW – North Korea's (search) ambassador to Russia said Thursday his country supported multilateral talks to ease tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear program, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
North Korea has previously said it would be willing to participate in multilateral talks only if it first has one-on-one talks with the United States -- a condition the Bush administration has rejected, saying other countries, including South Korea and Japan, should also be involved.
But North Korea's ambassador to Russia said it would support multilateral talks, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said North Korea is "making active efforts" toward multilateral talks, suggesting no agreement has been made.
In the past, North Korea has rarely announced major policy shifts through low-ranking officials such as ambassadors.
The Russian Foreign Ministry (search) statement said Ambassador Pak Ui Chun, during a meeting with Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov, said his leadership instructed him to express North Korea's support for multilateral talks with the participation of Russia.
"As instructed by his leadership, the ambassador said that North Korea supports conducting six-sided talks with the participation of Russia on resolving the current complex situation on the Korean Peninsula and is making active efforts toward their realization," the statement said.
The Foreign Ministry statement expressed "satisfaction at this constructive decision by Pyongyang."
Russia, which has been on the sidelines in the nuclear standoff between the United States and North Korea, is eager to play a high-profile role on the Korean peninsula, an economically important region.
Earlier Friday, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said in Tokyo that North Korea had not agreed to a U.S. proposal for multilateral talks.
"The key now is to get South Korea and Japan, and ultimately Russia and others, a seat at the table," Bolton said. "Those with a direct stake in the outcome must be part of the process. On this point, we will not waver."
Earlier, North Korea and the United States traded harsh criticism, with Bolton describing the communist nation as a "hellish nightmare" and the North accusing Washington of "all sorts of lies and plots."
In remarks likely to infuriate North Korea, Bolton described the country's leader, Kim Jong Il (search), as a "tyrannical dictator" and criticized its human rights record and weapons exports.
"While he lives like royalty in Pyongyang, he keeps hundreds of thousands of people locked in prison camps with millions more mired in abject poverty, scrounging the ground for food. For many in North Korea, life is a hellish nightmare," he said.
The nuclear dispute flared in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a secret program to enrich uranium for building nuclear weapons in violation of international agreements.