Russia: N. Korea ready to talk, halt nuke tests

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, second right, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, second left, walk during a meeting at a military garrison, outside Ulan-Ude, Siberia, Aug. 24, 2011. AP

MOSCOW - North Korea is ready to impose a moratorium on nuclear missile tests if international talks on its nuclear program resume, a spokesman for Russia's president said Wednesday after talks between the two leaders.

Russian news agencies, meanwhile, reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said his country is ready to resume talks "without preconditions."

Kim and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met Wednesday on a military base near the city of Ulan-Ude in eastern Siberia in Kim's first trip to Russia since 2002.

The six-sided nuclear talks have been long-stalled, but Kim's Russia trip comes as his country pushes to restart them. South Korea and Washington have demanded that the North first show its sincerity on fulfilling past nuclear commitments.

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The Korean peninsula has seen more than a year of tension during which the North shelled a South Korean island and allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship.

Medvedev spokeswoman Natalya Timakova was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying that Kim expressed readiness to return to the six-sided talks without preconditions and "in the course of the talks, North Korea will be ready to resolve the question of imposing a moratorium on tests and production of nuclear missile weapons."

Medvedev said Russia and North Korea also moved forward on a proposed project to ship natural gas to South Korea through a pipeline that crosses North Korea.

North Korea had long been reluctant about the prospect of helping its industrial powerhouse archenemy increase its gas supply, but recently has shown interest in the project. The South wants the Russian energy but is wary of North Korean influence over its energy supply.

Medvedev, in comments on Russian television, said the two countries will create a special commission to "define concrete parameters for bilateral cooperation on gas transit." He said the proposed pipeline would have an annual capacity of about 10 billion cubic meters.

The two leaders also discussed restructuring North Korea's Soviet-era debt to Russia, said a Kremlin official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Russian news agencies that debt totaled about $11 billion.

North Korea pledged to freeze its long-range missile tests in 1999, one year after the country shocked the world by firing a missile that flew over northern Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. However, it has since routinely tested short-range missiles and it launched a long-range rocket in April 2009.

The 2009 rocket test drew widespread international sanctions and condemnation and an angry North Korea retaliated by pulling out of the six-party nuclear talks.

North Korea is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least six atomic bombs and last November Pyongyang revealed a uranium enrichment program that can give it a second way to make atomic bombs. North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, and is believed to be working toward mounting a bomb on a long-range missile.

In March, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin traveled to Pyongyang and urged North Korean officials to impose a moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile tests and to allow international monitors back into its main nuclear complex near the capital.

Kim was expected to begin his return to North Korea following the meeting with Medvedev, traveling in the armored train he customarily uses for trips abroad.

The itinerary for Kim's visit has been largely kept secret because of worries about security. Some photos of Kim emerged during his visit Sunday to a Russian hydroelectric plant, but heavy police cordons kept the media and onlookers in Ulan-Ude away from the train station.

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