MOSCOW, October 8 (RIA Novosti) - Russia believes direct contacts between North Korea and the United States could provide a breakthrough in multilateral negotiations on ending the North's nuclear program, the Foreign Ministry said.
North Korea recently invited Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special envoy to Pyongyang, to visit. Washington has yet to officially accept the invitation, but has said bilateral contacts would be an important step towards resuming the six-nation talks.
"On the nuclear issue, Russia is in favor of discussions in any format, with the understanding that they cannot replace the six-party negotiations, but help create the conditions for their resumption," ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told reporters.
"We hope that the U.S. and North Korea will be able to progress through the bilateral phase, which will enable a return to negotiations in the six-party format," he said.
North Korea abandoned the negotiations in April, in protest against the United Nations' condemnation of its nuclear bomb and missile tests. The six-party talks have involved the two Koreas, China, the U.S., Russia and Japan.
Earlier this week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il expressed a "readiness to hold multilateral talks, depending on the outcome of the negotiations between the DPRK [the North's official name] and the United States."
Responding to the North Korean statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the U.S. "remains willing to engage North Korea bilaterally within the framework of the Six Party process to convince North Korea to take the path of complete denuclearization."
Kim also called for an improvement in relations with the U.S.
"The hostile relations between the DPRK and the United States should be converted into peaceful ties through the bilateral talks without fail," KCNA quoted him as saying.