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DATE=8/21/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA SUB (L) NUMBER=2-265679 BYLINE=LAURIE KASSMAN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Norwegian divers have managed to open the outside escape hatch of the sunken Russian nuclear submarine. A British mini-submarine has been given permission to descend to the "Kursk" to see if it can gain access to the submarine. Correspondent Laurie Kassman brings us up to date. TEXT: Norwegian divers have forced open the outside hatch and found the escape compartment inside flooded, with no signs of life. The next step is to pry open the inner hatch to let rescuers get inside the main part of the submarine. Last week, Russian officials insisted the escape hatch was too badly damaged to open. A spokesman for the Norwegian military contradicted that and said the hatch was not badly damaged. Norwegian divers managed to pry it open in the early hours Monday morning. Russia's state television says a British mini- submarine -- which arrived at the accident site Saturday -- has the go-ahead to descend to the Kursk. The rescue capsule could try to latch onto the submarine's escape hatch, create a watertight seal and open the way for rescuers to enter the submarine to check for any survivors. But a spokesman for the British Royal Navy told reporters the fact the escape chamber is flooded could make that operation more difficult. The final decision to enter the Kursk submarine will be left to the commander of the Northern Fleet, who is supervising the rescue mission. Saturday, the Northern Fleet's chief of staff said chances were slim of finding any of the submarine's 118 sailors alive, more than a week after the accident. But President Vladimir Putin said Sunday the rescue mission will continue until the last possible moment. His leadership has come under heavy criticism for its sluggish response to the disaster and his slow acceptance of foreign offers of help. Relatives of the crew now complain that -- if foreign rescue teams had arrived sooner -- some of the crew might have been saved. (Signed) NEB/LMK/WD 21-Aug-2000 03:21 AM LOC (21-Aug-2000 0721 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .