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Protest and promise precede North Korea talks
( 2003-08-25 15:54) (Agencies)

Russia expressed cautious optimism Monday ahead of six-party talks in China on North Korea's nuclear crisis, saying it would work to ensure everyone stays at the table.

But emotional protests in Japan and South Korea for and against North Korea's illustrated the chasm negotiators face as they gather for three days of talks aimed at ending the 10-month standoff.

Few expect a breakthrough, but Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said as he landed in Beijing he was "discreetly optimistic" about ensuring all sides remain committed to negotiations.

"We will strive to propel the talks to go on," Losyukov, who is heading the Russian delegation to the talks, was quoted as saying.

Diplomats from the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia meet at the Diaoyutai state guest house from Wednesday to Friday.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly was due in Beijing Monday evening, while the South Korean and Japanese negotiators were expected in the afternoon.

Pyongyang's delegation, headed by deputy foreign minister Kim Yong-il, was set to arrive Tuesday.

All sides were expected to lay out their positions, but hopes of a breakthrough remained tempered by the failure of negotiations in April between the United States, North Korea and China, and Pyongyang's.

"It's better to talk than not to talk," said a foreign diplomat in Beijing with knowledge of preparations for the talks.

"North Korea will always put take a tough stand -- we don't expect anything less," he said. "And that's one reason why we don't have high expectations of concrete results."

The United States said in October North Korea had admitted to a clandestine program to enrich uranium to build nuclear weapons, which violated its agreements with the United States and international commitments.

Since then, Pyongyang has thrown out U.N. nuclear inspectors, become the first state to pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and restarted its Yongbyon nuclear plant, sparking fears it may have reprocessed spent fuel rods there into plutonium for weapons.


Russia's Interfax news agency earlier quoted diplomatic sources as saying that no quick breakthrough should be expected and noted the previous North Korean nuclear crisis in 1993-94 took nearly 18 months of negotiations to resolve.

In a sign of the raw emotion separating the countries, raucous protests greeted the arrival in Japan of a North Korean ferry that has stirred up anger about Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Mangyongbong-92, the only direct passenger link between Japan and North Korea, arrived in the port of Niigata Monday for the first time in seven months.

Many Japanese oppose the ship's visits because of allegations it has been used for spying and smuggling missile parts.

"Give us back the abducted children and families!" chanted more than 100 protesters, including relatives of people who were snatched decades ago to train as spies.

"Go home! Go home!" others shouted.

In South Korea, small but violent scuffles between North Korean journalists and South Korean protesters overshadowed the world university games Sunday and prompted a threatened pull-out by Pyongyang.

South Korea refused Monday to apologize for the incident.

Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties and their already tense relationship has been frayed further by the row over North Korea's nuclear arms program.

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