Russia opens efforts to get North Korea back into talks

Russia launched a mission Thursday to try to get North Korea back into international disarmament talks, sending its top diplomat to Pyongyang after the North announced it would restart its nuclear program. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in North Korea for a two-day visit, North's Korean Central News Agency reported in a brief dispatch. The ITAR-Tass news agency said the nuclear standoff was expected to dominate Lavrov's trip, and that he may meet later Thursday with leader Kim Jong Il. North Korea last week expelled all international monitors of its plutonium-producing facilities, vowed to restart them and quit six-nation disarmament talks, after the UN Security Council condemned its April 5 rocket launch and called for expanded sanctions. Pyongyang says the rebuke is unfair because the liftoff was a peaceful satellite launch. But the US and others believe it was a test of long-range missile technology. Lavrov is expected to focus on trying to persuade the North to return to the nuclear negotiating table. South Korean and Russian media reports said he could meet with the North's reclusive leader and deliver a letter from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.