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Kim, Putin have successful, ‘open’ talks

Russian leader says he agrees with U.S. stance ‘to a certain extent’
Apr 26,2019
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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin toast following talks on the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University on Russky Island, Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday. [TASS/YONHAP]
Russian President Vladimir Putin said after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vladivostok, Russia, on Thursday that he shares the position with the United States “to a certain extent” of wanting “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.

Putin held a solo press conference immediately after the summit and a dinner reception with Kim and said the North Korean leader shared this position.

Putin called Kim “an open person” and said that he was happy with the outcome of the summit. He said they discussed all aspects of bilateral relations, sanctions, the United Nations, North Korean relations with the United States and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But he said there is “no other way” than for dialogue between North Korea and the United States. Putin also plans to communicate with the U.S. and Chinese leadership about the summit, underscoring that security has to be guaranteed for the Kim regime.

Putin and Kim kicked off their summit in Vladivostok on Thursday, the first between the leaders of North Korea and Russia in eight years, at around 2 p.m. local time at the Far Eastern Federal University campus on Russky Island amid heightened security.

Kim arrived in Russia’s Far East on his armored train the previous day, while Putin arrived in Vladivostok by helicopter earlier Thursday from Chita in the Zabaykalsky region, where he had attended a meeting on tackling wildfires. Putin stood outside the university’s sports complex waiting for Kim to arrive in his black armored limousine. He welcomed the North Korean leader with a handshake before they entered the summit venue.

In remarks open to the press, with the North Korean and Russian flags as the backdrop, Putin said that Kim’s visit will “contribute to producing a solution to the Korean Peninsula.”

Putin also said he supports inter-Korean dialogue and efforts made toward normalizing the North Korea-U.S. relations. But he added that “a lot remains to be done in bilateral relations, to develop trade and economic, as well as humanitarian, ties.”

Kim thanked Putin for the meeting amid a busy schedule and recollected the two countries’ long historical ties while saying he looked forward to the summit being “beneficial to the sound and steady development of relations.”

Kim added, “The entire world is focused on the Korean Peninsula issue right now, and I believe we can evaluate policy, share our views and study this together and have a very meaningful dialogue. I look forward to having beneficial talks today.”

Putin cited North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s visit to the Soviet Union in 1949, as well as his own “memorable” visit to Pyongyang in 2000. Months into his first presidency, Putin made the first visit by a Russian leader to Pyongyang in July 2000, which was also his first overseas trip after he took office. He had a summit with Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il.

This summit also parallels a visit made by then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to Vladivostok in 2002 for a summit with Putin.

North Korea and Russia celebrated the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties last year.

Kim and Putin held a closed-door, one-on-one meeting for nearly two hours, twice as long as originally scheduled. This was followed by extended talks that lasted around three hours and a dinner reception.

Ahead of the extended talks, Kim said that the objective of his Russia visit was to “meet President Putin in person and exchange in-depth opinions on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the region, which is gaining urgent global attention, and to strategically promote regional stability and jointly manage the situation.”

Kim added he aims to “develop our traditional relations in a sound manner to meet the demands of the current times.” He added they had “wonderful” one-on-one talks earlier, producing a smile from Putin.

Putin said that he and Kim discussed the situation on Korean Peninsula, what needs to be done and how, “so that the situation would have a greater prospect for improvement.”

In the extended talks, Kim was only joined by key diplomats who took part in the North-U.S. summits, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, rather than economy-related officials, which could be seen as a deliberate focus on the denuclearization issue. Putin was accompanied by senior Russian officials including Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and transport, energy and railway officials.

Along with the nuclear issue, they discussed the development of bilateral political, economic and cultural relations as well as humanitarian ties.

The two sides were not scheduled to sign a joint statement, according to the Kremlin.

After the talks ended, the two leaders headed to a reception hosted by Putin around 5:30 p.m., briefly exchanging gifts including a Russian sword.

Putin in an address at the dinner said, “Russia is working to play an active role toward a diplomatic resolution to the Korean Peninsula problem.”

He went onto express support for North Korea’s efforts in talks with the United States, adding that the “nuclear and various regional issue can only be solved through diplomatic, peaceful means.”

Putin called for cooperation from the “international community and related countries for the settlement of permanent peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.”

Putin went on to quote a North Korean saying that “even a mountain can be moved when we work together.”

“Pyongyang and Moscow are far apart in distance, but North Korea and Russia are only a river apart,” Kim said in turn.

Kim said that they held “candid and meaningful talks” on “guaranteeing peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and developing friendly bilateral relations.”

Putin toasted to “friendly relations between our two countries, cooperation, peace and happiness” and to leader Kim’s health.

The North Korean delegation to Vladivostok included top officials in economic affairs such as O Su-yong and Kim Phyong-hae, vice chairmen of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, as well as Ri Yong-gil, chief of the general staff of the North Korean People’s Army.

The Russian delegation included Transport Minister Yevgeny Dietrich, Minister for the Development of Russia’s Far East Alexander Kozlov, Russian Railways CEO Oleg Belozerov and Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky. Such officials are seen to represent Russia’s desire for economic cooperation with North Korea despite stringent international sanctions.

The two sides discussed the connection of a trans-Korean railway with the Trans-Siberian Railway, a power grid and natural gas pipeline project, which leaves open cooperation with South Korea but goes against current UN sanctions.

They also discussed the issue of extending the employment of thousands of North Korean laborers in Russia set to return home by the end of the year, in keeping with a ban on overseas workers under a December 2017 UN Security Council resolution.

The first summit between Kim Jong-un and Putin, arranged hectically following the second North-U.S. summit two months ago and condensed in format, is being seen as long on symbolism and short on concrete achievements. It could put some pressure on the United States amid an impasse in denuclearization negotiations after the summit between Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, failed to produce a nuclear deal on Feb. 28.

Kim had been expected to seek Russia’s support for sanctions relief after failing to ease the U.S.-led international economic pressure at the Hanoi summit. Russia and China are two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council that have traditionally come to North Korea’s defense and have favored a phased and simultaneous approach toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

Moscow has advocated the six-party talks structure to deal with North Korea, involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. The six-party talks on North Korea denuclearization have been defunct since late 2008 when Pyongyang walked away from them.

Putin said in his press conference that “the format of the six-party talks could be quite useful” in the future.

This contrasts with the current top-down approach to nuclear negotiations advocated by President Trump.

In a rare interview with foreign media, Kim told Russian news channel Rossiya-24 Wednesday that he hopes in his summit with Putin “to discuss various issues, including managing and maintaining the situation on the Korean Peninsula in a stable manner jointly.” The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Thursday reported Kim’s arrival in Vladivostok around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, in keeping with its recent practice of promptly reporting on the leader’s travels abroad.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]