Kim resolves to deepen Russia ties, Putin calls for peaceful resolution of nuke standoff


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Thursday highlighted his “unwavering” will to cement ties with Russia while President Vladimir Putin made an emphatic call for a peaceful resolution of Pyongyang’s nuclear quandary. The leaders held their first summit in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Vladivostok amid Pyongyang’s stalled nuclear negotiations with Washington. The much-anticipated summit was seen as a key test of Kim’s diplomatic outreach aimed at breaking the logjam in the parley with the United States, easing sanctions pressure and catalyzing his lackluster drive for economic development. “I had candid, meaningful talks with President Putin on the issues of developing the friendly relationship between North Korea and Russia, of guaranteeing peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, and common international issues,” Kim said during a reception after the summit that lasted for more than three hours. “It is my and the Republic government’s firm, unwavering stance and strategic policy line to relentlessly strengthen and develop the strategic, traditional, friendly relationship between North Korea and Russia in line with the demands of the new century,” he added.


Putin underscored the importance of a diplomatic path to the North’s denuclearization. “We consider that there is no and can be no alternative to peaceful settlement of nuclear and other problems of the region,” Putin was quoted by Russian news service TASS as saying. He added that Russia will continue to make efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula. During a press conference later, Putin stressed the need for an “international” security guarantee for the North, saying a bilateral security arrangement will “hardly be enough.” His remarks hinted at Russia’s desire to carve out a role in ongoing efforts for a lasting peace on the peninsula, where Moscow has only rarely been substantively involved. Amid concerns that it could be left out of the loop, Russia has been seen advocating for a multilateral dialogue platform. “Agreements between two countries will hardly be enough but at the end of the day, it is up to North Korea to decide because it is the country this issue concerns the most,” he said.


Putin, in addition, called for three-way economic cooperation between the two Koreas and Russia. During the summit, Putin also discussed the issue of some 10,000 North Korean workers who face repatriation at the end of this year under U.N. sanctions. He called the North Koreans “good, hard-working, orderly” workers, saying there are “calm and non-confrontational” solutions. He did not elaborate.


Kim arrived by train in Vladivostok on Wednesday afternoon, flanked by top party, military and state officials for his first foreign trip since the collapse of his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February. Since the no-deal summit, Kim has been trying to close ranks with his major-power supporters — China and Russia — while calling for flexibility in Washington’s tough-line stance in stalled nuclear negotiations.


Accompanying Kim at the extended summit session were Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. The Russian delegation included Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Transport Minister Yevgeny Dietrich and Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East Alexander Kozlov. The North’s decades-old nuclear quandary appears to have topped the summit agenda, as both Kim and Putin noted they discussed the “situation on the Korean Peninsula” of keen international concern.


Moscow and Pyongyang favor a phased, incremental approach to the North’s nuclear disarmament, while Washington calls for the North to take sweeping denuclearization steps before any rewards are given. Signs of the leaders’ budding chemistry were detected as Putin expressed satisfaction over the summit. “All of us are satisfied with the results of the talks, both my colleagues and I,” the Russian leader said according to TASS. Putin also depicted Kim as a “fairly open person and quite an interesting and substantive interlocutor.”


As a gift, Kim gave Putin a Korean sword, explaining that it represents his “soul and the soul of our people in support of you.” Putin plans to brief Chinese President Xi Jinping on the summit results during an international forum in Beijing that he will attend on Friday and Saturday. Ahead of their summit, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. is determined not to repeat past mistakes by giving the North “a bunch of money in exchange for too little.” “We’re very focused on getting the right set of incentives for both sides so that we can achieve the objective,” he said during an interview with CBS News on Wednesday. “It’s gonna be bumpy. It’s gonna be challenging. I hope that we get several more chances to have serious conversations about how we can move this process forward.” Asked if he saw a path to a deal leading to denuclearization, Pompeo said, “I do. I absolutely do.”


Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, in Seoul, according to the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. They were expected to exchange views on the Kim-Putin summit. Patrushev is here for a security consultation with Chung Eui-yong, director of Cheong Wa Dae’s National Security Office. This Vladivostok summit is the first one between the leaders of the North and Russia in eight years, after Kim’s late father and former leader, Kim Jong-il, met then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011. Following the summit, Kim Jong-un is expected to take a tour of the city and return home Friday or Saturday.


By Song Sang-ho


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