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SEOUL — A senior official of the South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry on Sunday praised the Moscow Declaration issued Saturday by Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a positive step for inter-Korean relations.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the joint declaration is a positive step for the development of inter-Korean ties.

He said the declaration will encourage North Korea to be more open to the outside world, noting that the document expressed support for the declaration issued by the two Koreas in June last year after the first-ever summit between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korea’s Kim and for Russia’s constructive role on the Korean Peninsula.

The official also praised Russia for having pushed for inclusion of a phrase stating that Moscow and Pyongyang hope for an improvement of U.S.-North Korea ties and Japan-North Korea ties.

The official took a cautious stance on Pyongyang’s call in the declaration for withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea, saying, “We have to wait and see how the topic will be brought up in U.S.-North Korea talks from now.”

The official said North Korea’s call is in line with recent demands it has made for withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula and appears to be a response to the tougher stance taken by Washington toward Pyongyang under the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Russian officials told South Korea that Moscow had only noted Kim’s call for a troop withdrawal, according to the official.

Meanwhile, another ministry official expressed caution over the joint declaration, noting that Kim appears to have made a policy shift from having shown understanding of the presence of U.S. forces in South Korea in last year’s inter-Korean summit.

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