North Korea could hold a nuclear test as early as next month, a senior Russian lawmaker warned on Tuesday, saying the situation had reached a critical point, a Russian news agency reported.
"There are grounds now to believe that North Korea may test a nuclear device already in June," the head of the Russian lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachyov, was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency on its Web site.
Kosyachov, who is to lead a delegation of Russian lawmakers to Pyongyang later this week, criticized the United States for seeking to put pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. He said such a policy risked forcing the isolated Stalinist state out of the diplomatic arena.
"Attempts by the United States to exert pressure on Pyongyang as well as U.S proposals to submit this issue to the U.N Security Council are counterproductive and could knock North Korea out of talks completely," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
The delegation is scheduled to meet with North Korea's No. 2 official, Kim Yong Nam, and other top officials during the May 5-7 visit.
The visit comes amid international efforts to bring North Korea back to international disarmament talks aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions. In February, the North claimed it already has nuclear weapons and would boycott the talks indefinitely.
Since 2003, China has hosted three inconclusive rounds of nuclear talks, which remain stalled since June 2004. Russia is one of the six nations involved in the negotiations along with the United States, Japan, China and the two Koreas.
A September session was canceled after the North refused to attend, citing Washington's alleged hostile policy toward Pyongyang.
On the photo: Konstantin Kosachyov
Rescuers found the pilot of one of the two Su-34 fighters that had collided in midair in the Far East on January 18