Russia and North Korea to discuss nuclear crisis in Moscow

By Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and David Brunnstrom MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russian and North Korean officials will meet in Moscow on Friday to discuss the North Korea crisis, a move welcomed by the United States, which has been locked in am increasingly heated war of words with Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs. Russia's Foreign Ministry said Oleg Burmistrov, Russia's ambassador-at-large, would meet Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North American department of North Korea's foreign ministry. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova declined to give details, but said her ministry would issue a statement after the meeting. The United States welcomed the planned meeting, with U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert saying: "I can't see that as a bad thing." "Diplomacy is our preferred approach," Nauert told a regular briefing. "If Russia can be successful in getting North Korea to move in a better direction, we would certainly welcome that." Privately, however, U.S. officials have played down the likely effect of the Russian effort. Recent days have seen exchanges of heated rhetoric and threats between U.S. President Donald Trump's administration and North Korea over the latter's bid to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States. Nauert said Friday's talks would follow a visit to Moscow by the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Joseph Yun, about two weeks ago. Attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pushed a proposal by Moscow and Beijing for a dual suspension of North Korean weapons tests and the U.S.-South Korean military drills to kick-start negotiations. He suggested then that a neutral European country could mediate. Washington has said its joint military drills are essential to guard against North Korea and that Pyongyang must show it is serious about giving up its nuclear weapons before any return to talks. North Korea, for its part, says it needs to develop its weapons to defend itself against what it sees as U.S. aggression. Last week, Lavrov said North Korea and the United States should tone down their bellicose rhetoric, calling the exchange of threats between the two "quite bad, unacceptable." (Reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in MOSCOW and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn and James Dalgleish)