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International relations

Russia urges renewal of six-party talks to denuclearize North Korea

Foreign Minister Lavrov woos South Korea in first meeting since 2019

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, with South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong in Seoul on March 25.    © Kyodo

SEOUL/MOSCOW -- Russia wants to restore six-party negotiations to denuclearize North Korea that would include Moscow along with Japan, the U.S. and China, its foreign minister said Thursday, following a meeting with his South Korean counterpart.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for the revival of the six-party talks, which would include the four countries plus the two Koreas. His meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, the first since mid-2019, came as Pyongyang broke a yearlong hiatus on ballistic missile tests earlier Thursday.

"Moscow and Seoul remain committed to an early resumption of negotiations between the parties in the interests of a lasting settlement of the entire range of problems in the region," Lavrov said in a joint news conference with Chung in Seoul. This was also Lavrov's first trip to South Korea in eight years.

He added that the officials discussed the "importance of efforts to maintain peace and stability in Northeast Asia, including on the Korean Peninsula, which implies the sides' rejection of the arms race and the buildup of all kinds of military activity."

The comments came amid renewed concerns over North Korea's weapons program. Thursday's test in the Sea of Japan came four days after Pyongyang launched two cruise missiles into the Yellow Sea. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed concern about the launches, urging North Korea through a spokesperson "to renew its diplomatic engagement with the parties concerned and to work for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

Russia's push to resume six-party talks stems from concerns that denuclearization efforts for the Korean Peninsula could advance without its involvement. Former U.S. President Donald Trump had pursued a bilateral dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, essentially freezing China and Russia out of the process.

Lavrov's trip to South Korea coincided with an event to commemorate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Russia and South Korea. By highlighting the countries' cooperation, Russia is likely looking to counter U.S. efforts to strengthen its alliances with Japan and South Korea.

South Korea toes a delicate line between its security partnership with the U.S. and its reliance on the Chinese economy. Russia hopes that closer ties with South Korea could hamper its trilateral partnership with the U.S. and Japan.

Lavrov had also met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi this week. "It is time to stop attaching a political agenda to the topic of human rights," they said in a joint statement Tuesday, hitting back at U.S. criticisms over human rights violations in Russia and China.

In an interview with South Korean media before arriving at the country, Lavrov said the U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific will create blocs that "are not designed to promote a positive process but are spearheaded against certain states."

Lavrov and Chung did not touch in the Indo-Pacific during their news conference. But South Korea has maintained a distance from U.S. initiatives in the region, like bolstering the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, partly to avoid antagonizing China, a top trading partner. Lavrov may have discussed potential cooperation with the South in the area at their meeting.

In 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in traveled to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and invited Putin to visit Seoul. South Korea extended this invitation again at the foreign ministers meeting, and the two sides agreed to discuss a date once the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

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