Kremlin Is Ready to Mediate North Korea-U.S. Talks, If Both Sides Willing

Moscow -
In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber, right top, flies over the Korean Peninsula with South Korean fighter jets and U.S. fighter jets during the combined aerial exercise, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.  (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)

Russia is ready to act as a mediator between North Korea and the United States if both parties are willing for it to play such a role, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

Moscow has long called for the two sides to conduct negotiations aimed at reducing tensions over the nuclear and missile program North Korea is pursuing in defiance of years of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

South Korea predicted earlier Tuesday that North Korea would look to open negotiations with the United States next year in an optimistic outlook for 2018, even as Seoul set up a specialized military team to confront nuclear threats from the North.

“Russia’s readiness to clear the way for de-escalation is obvious,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a phone call with reporters.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Monday for Washington and Pyongyang to start negotiations, saying Russia was ready to facilitate such talks.

Though U.S. diplomats have said they are pursuing a diplomatic solution, President Donald Trump has said Pyongyang must commit to giving up its nuclear weapons before any talks can begin.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to impose new sanctions on North Korea on Friday in response to its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, a move North Korea called an act of war, tantamount to a complete economic blockade.