MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia welcomed North Korea's decision to suspend key elements of its nuclear weapons program on Thursday, calling Pyongyang's deal with the United States a step towards a resumption of six-party disarmament talks.
"We welcome North Korea's decision to impose a moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and launching long-range ballistic missiles, and enriching uranium," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Russia and China have pressed their reclusive, impoverished neighbor to return to the six-party talks. But the United States, Japan and South Korea have emphasized Pyongyang must first show it is serious about getting rid of its nuclear capabilities.
Wednesday's surprise breakthrough in U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks, accompanied by pledges of U.S. food aid, could pave the way for a resumption of the long-stalled talks.
The Russian statement said Moscow had urged North Korea to take the same steps last spring. "Such parallel efforts by the participants in the six-party talks ... are gradually bringing us closer to their resumption," it said.
The late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited Russia in September and said the talks should resume without preconditions.
Russia has repeatedly urged North Korea to abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions and a 2005 disarmament agreement. But it has warned the United States and South Korea that an excessively aggressive stance would be counterproductive.
Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Andrew Osborn