North Korean foreign minister in Moscow talks: official
North Korea's foreign minister held rare talks in Russia on Monday amid a flurry of diplomatic attempts to ease tensions following Pyongyang's deadly attack on a South Korean island last month.
Pak Ui-Chun is on a visit to Russia until Wednesday and was in talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on a number of issues, a spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry said.
"The talks are ongoing," the spokesman told AFP, saying it would be premature to comment further. "There are lots of issues there."
The meeting comes after the North's November 23 shelling of a South Korean island which left four dead including two civilians, the first shelling of civilian areas in South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean war.
South Korea's chief nuclear envoy is also expected to visit Russia for talks with his counterpart Alexei Borodavkin, Seoul's foreign ministry said.
Wi Sung-Lac will discuss the shelling and the North's disclosure last month of an apparently operational uranium enrichment plant.
The North's bombardment of the border island triggered a regional crisis and highlighted divisions between China, the North's sole major ally and key food and fuel source, and the United States on ways to restrain the hardline regime.
A member of the six-party forum on nuclear disarmament, Moscow condemned North Korea's attack, calling for an end to any hostilities.
But in contrast with the West, Russia has repeatedly said any opportunity to promote dialogue with Pyongyang should be used.
The North says it fired in response to a South Korean artillery drill that dropped shells into its waters near the contested border. The South says the North's attack was pre-planned.
While Pak's visit was long planned and reciprocates last year's North Korea visit by Lavrov, it also highlights Moscow's continuing importance as a regional mediator, said Alexander Zhebin, head of the Centre for Korean Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Far East Institute.
"If understanding of the steps needed to revive talks is found, it would be the main content and result of the visit," Zhebin told AFP. "This will mean that Russia will have played the role expected of her."
The North quit the six-party forum on nuclear disarmament in April 2009 and staged its second atomic weapons test a month later. The forum groups the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
© 2010 AFP