25 Apr 2019

Russia's Putin arrives for summit with North Korea's Kim

9:29 pm on 25 April 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sat down for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying the summit should help plan joint efforts to resolve a stand-off over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo prior to their talks in Vladivostok, Russia. Photo: AP / Alexander Zemlianichenko / Pool

Speaking at the start of the talks at a university on the Russky Island across a bridge from Vladivostok, Mr Putin voiced confidence that Mr Kim's visit will "help better understand what should be done to settle the situation on the Korean Peninsula, what we can do together, what Russia can do to support the positive processes going on now."

Thursday's summit reflects Russia's effort to position itself as an essential player in the North Korean nuclear standoff.

Mr Kim's first trip to Russia comes about two months after his second summit with US President Donald Trump, which failed because of disputes over US-led sanctions on the North. Mr Putin meanwhile wants to expand Russia's clout in the region and get more leverage with Washington.

"We welcome your efforts to develop an inter-Korean dialogue and normalize North Korea's relations with the United States," Mr Putin told Mr Kim.

For his part, Mr Kim noted that with the world's attention now concentrated on the Korean Peninsula, "I think we will have a very meaningful dialogue on sharing our opinions on this matter while also jointly apprising and studying it."

He also congratulated the Russian leader on his re-election to another six-year term last year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, centre, is welcomed by Russian officials on his arrival in Vladivostok, Russia.

Mr Kim (centre) is welcomed by Russian officials on his arrival in Vladivostok. Photo: KCNA via KNS via AP

It is Mr Kim's first visit to Russia as North Korean leader; his late father, Kim Jong Il, visited Russia in 2011. The North Korean leader evoked his father's "great love for Russia" and said that he intends to strengthen ties between the two countries.

In February, Mr Kim's second summit with President Donald Trump in Hanoi ended without any agreement because of disputes over US-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.

Mr Kim wants the US to ease the sanctions to reciprocate for some partial disarmament steps he took last year. But the US maintains the sanctions will stay in place until North Korea makes more significant denuclearisation moves.

North Korea has increasingly expressed frustration at the deadlocked negotiations. Last week, it tested a new weapon and demanded that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from the nuclear talks.

Mr Kim arrived in Vladivostok Wednesday aboard an armoured train, telling Russian state television that he was hoping that his first visit to Russia would "successful and useful." He evoked his father's "great love for Russia" and said that he intends to strengthen ties between the two countries. The late Kim Jong Il made three trips to Russia, last time in 2011.

Like the US, Russia has strongly opposed Pyongyang's nuclear bid. Mr Putin has welcomed Mr Trump's meetings with Mr Kim, but urged the US to do more to assuage Pyongyang's security concerns.

Speaking before the talks, Mr Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said that Russia will seek to "consolidate the positive trends" stemming from Trump-Kim meetings. He noted that the Kremlin would try to help "create preconditions and a favourable atmosphere for reaching solid agreements on the problem of the Korean Peninsula."

Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that Mr Putin will likely encourage Mr Kim to continue constructive talks with the US, reflecting Russia's own worry about the North nuclear and missile programmes.

"Russia can't be expected to side with North Korea and, let's say, support the North Koreans all the way in the Security Council where Russia is a veto wielding member and where all sanctions imposed on North Korea require Russia's approval," he said.

Mr Trenin emphasized that Moscow is sceptical that the North could be persuaded to fully abandon its nuclear weapons, considering it a "mission impossible."

"North Korea will not give up the only guarantee of the survival of the North Korean state and its regime," Mr Trenin said.

Russia would also 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 modernize its dilapidated Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.

Vladivostok, a city of more than 500,000 on the Sea of Japan, faced gridlock on its roads as traffic was blocked in the city centre due to Mr Kim's visit. The authorities have temporarily closed the waters around Russky Island to all maritime traffic.

- AP

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