No alternative to 6 party talks:Russia

MOSCOW: Russia and China are convinced that there is no alternative to six-party talks to stop North Korea's nuclear programme, the Russian foreign ministry said Saturday after a meeting with Chinese officials.

"The two sides are convinced that there is no alternative to the six-party negotiations which are an efficient instrument to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula," the ministry said in a statement.

The talks, involving South and North Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States began in August 2003 but Pyongyang pulled out of the dialogue in April after being sanctioned by the UN Security Council for a missile test.

The statement came hours after North Korea test-fired seven missiles off its east coast, according to South Korean officials, in an act of defiance apparently timed for the US Independence Day holiday.

The launches further fuelled regional tensions after the communist state's nuclear test in May, which coincided with the US Memorial Day holiday.

They came as Washington seeks support for tough enforcement of United Nations sanctions aimed at shutting down the North's nuclear and missile programmes.

The United States urged North Korea on Saturday not to "aggravate tensions" as it called Pyongyang's latest missile as "not helpful".

"North Korea should refrain from actions that aggravate tensions and focus on denuclearization talks and the implementation of its commitments from the September 19, 2005 joint statement," said State Department spokesman Karl Duckworth.

"This type of North Korean behavior is not helpful," he told AFP.

The ballistic missiles -- which the North is banned from firing under UN resolutions -- were launched into the Sea of Japan.

Under the 2005 agreement, North Korea promised to give up its nuclear programme in exchange for a US pledge not to attack or invade it and to work toward normalized relations.

The United States and other parties to the agreement -- China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea -- also offered to put together an energy package for North Korea.

But North Korea announced last April that it was walking out of the six-party talks and resuming operation of its nuclear facilities.