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Russia declines comment on reported N.Korea offer

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, Dec 4 (Reuters) Russia's atomic energy agency declined to comment today on Japanese news reports that North Korea had offered Russia exclusive rights to its natural uranium deposits in exchange for support at six-way talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

''We were surprised to read the information in a Japanese newspaper. We don't know where this information has come from and therefore will not comment on the rumours at this moment,'' Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov told RIA news agency.

Japanese daily Tokyo Shimbun yesterday cited Russian government sources as saying that Moscow and Pyongyang had been in secret talks since 2002 over a plan for Russia to import the uranium and enrich it before selling it on as nuclear fuel to China and Vietnam.

The newspaper said North Korea had recently warmed to the idea, but indicated it wanted Russian support at the stalled nuclear talks, which may resume in the next few weeks.

The United States, Japan, South Korea and China are also involved in the six-way discussions aimed at persuading the North to scrap its nuclear weapons programme.

After North Korea shocked the world by conducting a nuclear test in October, the United Nations passed a resolution barring trade with Pyongyang in dangerous weapons.

Russia would therefore need to guarantee any uranium it imported from North Korea would be used for peaceful purposes, the paper said.

Russia, which is already a major exporter of oil and natural gas, is also seeking to position itself as an exporter of nuclear fuel, the paper said.

Reuters BDP DB2158

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