An upbeat Kim arrives for Putin summit
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stepped off his khaki-green armoured train in far-eastern Russia on Wednesday, smiling and upbeat ahead of a much-anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin that comes amid deadlocked global diplomacy over Kim’s nuclear programme.
Dressed in a black coat and a fedora, Kim first met with Russian officials at Russia’s Khasan train station near its border with North Korea before travelling on to Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok for a summit Thursday with Putin.
Speaking to Russia’s state-owned Rossiya-24, Kim said he’s hoping for a “successful and useful” visit and would like to discuss with Putin the “settlement of the situation in the Korean Peninsula”, as well as bilateral ties with Russia.
It was his first visit to Russia as North Korean leader; his late father, Kim Jong Il, visited Russia in 2011.
“I have heard a lot about your country and have long dreamt of visiting it,” Kim was quoted as saying when he sat down with local officials at his first stop. “It’s been seven years since I took the helm, and I’ve only just managed to visit.”
The North Korean leader evoked his father’s “great love for Russia” and said that he intends to strengthen the ties between the two countries.
Kim arrived in Vladivostok aboard his armoured train early Wednesday evening and was greeted by a military orchestra before he got into his personal limousine, which travels with him, and drove away. He is expected to attend a dinner reception hosted by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, according to South Korean media.
After his summit with Putin, Kim may tour neighbouring facilities or landmarks before departing for home on Friday. Primorye governor Oleg Kozhemyako told Rossiya-24 that Kim would be meeting “ordinary people” in Russia who all favour closer ties with the North.
Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov told Russian media the Putin-Kim summit will focus on North Korea’s nuclear programme, noting that Russia will seek to “consolidate the positive trends” stemming from President Donald Trump’s meetings with Kim.
In February, Kim’s second summit with Trump in Hanoi ended without any agreement because of disputes over United States-led sanctions. There have since been no publicly known high-level contacts between the US and North Korea, although both sides say they are still open to a third summit.
Kim wants the US to ease the sanctions to reciprocate some partial disarmament steps he took last year. But the US maintains that the sanctions will stay in place until North Korea takes more significant denuclearisation steps.
North Korea has increasingly expressed frustration at the deadlocked negotiations. Last week, North Korea tested a new weapon and demanded that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from the nuclear talks.
Putin’s adviser added that the Kremlin would try to help “create preconditions and a favourable atmosphere for reaching solid agreements on the problem of the Korean Peninsula”.
Ushakov pointed at a Russia-China roadmap that offered a step-by-step approach to solving the nuclear stand-off and called for sanctions relief and security guarantees for Pyongyang. He noted that the North’s moratorium on nuclear tests and the scaling down of US-South Korean military drills have helped reduce tensions and created conditions for further progress.
Ushakov said the summit’s agenda will also include bilateral cooperation. Russia’s trade with North Korea is minuscule at just US $34 million last year, mostly because of the international sanctions against Pyongyang.
Russia would like to gain broader access to North Korea’s mineral resources, including rare metals. Pyongyang, for its part, covets Russia’s electricity supplies and investment to modernise its dilapidated Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.