N Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have ‘meaningful exchange’ at first summit

26-Apr-2019 Intellasia | AFP | 6:00 AM Print This Post

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time on Thursday, in a summit intended to galvanise support amid Pyongyang’s stalled nuclear talks with Washington.

The meeting on Russky Island near the Pacific port of Vladivostok is Kim’s first face-to-face talks with another head of state since returning from his summit in Hanoi with US President Donald Trump, which broke down in February without a deal on the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Television coverage showed Kim arriving in a limousine before shaking hands with Putin, who smiled and introduced him to other Russian officials.

Putin said before the talks began that he was confident that Kim’s visit would “help us to better understand how we can resolve the situation on the Korean peninsula and what Russia can do to support the positive processes that are currently taking place”.

 (South China Morning Post)

(South China Morning Post)

After nearly two hours of one-on-one talks, Kim said the two sides “had a very meaningful exchange of views on issues of mutual interest”.

He had earlier said the meeting would be “very useful… in developing the relationship between the two countries, who have a long friendship and history, into a more stable and sound one.”

The Soviet Union was once among Pyongyang’s closest allies, but relations with Moscow cooled following the communist state’s collapse in the 1990s. Russia has since sought to revive ties amid a new stand-off with the West, however, and has already called for UN sanctions on North Korea to be eased.

Thursday’s talks follow repeated invitations from Putin after Kim embarked on a series of diplomatic overtures last year.

Since March 2018, the formerly reclusive North Korean leader has held four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, two with Trump and one with Vietnam’s president Nguyen Phu Trong.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea, said the summit with Putin was Kim’s way of “sending a message to the US that he will wait out sanctions and pressure”.

North Korea will also be looking for cooperation from Russia to upgrade its ageing defence industry, thereby providing Moscow with “a chance to bolster its clout in the region”, Cheong said.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Putin and Kim are likely to discuss the impasse reached in nuclear negotiations with the US, though it remains unclear what role Russia can play in efforts to restart diplomacy.

“Russia’s cooperation with the North will be limited to humanitarian food aid and hiring of North Korean workers in developing its far eastern region at the most,” Koh said.

“Bilateral trade between the two countries is minimal around $34 million last year because of international sanctions against Pyongyang… For Russia, which is under sanctions itself, it is very difficult to help the North without breaching sanctions.”

Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea, visited Moscow last week for talks with Russia’s deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov in a bid “to discuss efforts to advance the final, fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea”, according to a US State Department statement.

Frederick Carriere, a research professor of political science at Syracuse University, said Kim “might reasonably expect to find a sympathetic partner in Putin”, given the damaging sanctions that Russia is also subject to and the “unexpected lack of flexibility” that the Trump administration demonstrated in Hanoi.

Biegun’s trip to Moscow suggested Washington “is concerned that Russia may waver in its commitment to maintain strict sanctions enforcement in the face of pressure from Pyongyang to provide relief,” he wrote in US political newspaper The Hill.

The Kremlin has said the focus of the talks will be on finding “a political and diplomatic solution to the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula” but that no joint statement or signing of agreements was planned.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme launched in 2003 with the participation of North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States remained the best option for finding solutions but that other efforts were worth looking at.

“There is currently no other effective international mechanism,” Peskov told reporters.

“On the other hand… all efforts deserve support if they are really pursuing the goal of denuclearisation and resolving the problems of the two Koreas.”




Category: Korea

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