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Kim may meet Xi, Putin ahead of U.S. summit

Chinese and Russian leaders will be in Qingdao on weekend
June 05,2018
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Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, walks into Beijing Capital International Airport on Monday to board a Koryo Airline bound for Pyongyang. [YONHAP]
Ahead of a historic meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be trying to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, according to various analysts.

With the North-U.S. summit one week away, Kim’s activities are being closely monitored. Before previous important meetings, including his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April, Kim has limited his public activities and he is expected to be concentrating on preparations for the U.S. summit.

“There is an atmosphere that North Korea is betting the fate of the nation on the summit with the United States,” a government source here said Monday. “It will be thoroughly preparing for it more than any other summit.”

On Friday, Kim Yong-chol, the vice chairman of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, held an 80-minute meeting with Trump at the White House and delivered a letter from Kim. Trump immediately announced that the summit was back on for June 12 in Singapore. The president also showed unusual politeness, seeing Kim Yong-chol, a former spy chief, off as he departed in a car.

Kim, also the director of the United Front Department, which is responsible for inter-Korean relations, flew into Beijing from New York on Sunday and departed Monday around noon. While in China, he may have reported to Beijing officials the results of his trip to the United States, where he held meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York over Wednesday and Thursday before meeting with Trump on Friday.

The young leader was seen to have been overseeing Kim Yong-chol’s U.S. visit last week, as well as monitoring the talks between American and North Korean diplomats to finalize an agenda for the summit, ongoing at the Panmunjom, the truce village at the inter-Korean border.

A team of American negotiators led by Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and former nuclear envoy, have been holding a series of talks with a North Korean delegation led by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui since May 27. They held a fifth round of talks Monday.

Kim Jong-un has shown similar patterns in the past from refraining from public activities as he prepared for major summits.

Ahead of his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27 in Panmunjom, Kim made a surprise visit to China, his first visit outside of his country since he took power, from March 25 to 28. In Beijing, he had a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, rekindling dampened diplomatic relations between the two neighboring countries.

Before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s second visit to Pyongyang last month, Kim held another summit with Xi in Dalian, northeastern China, over May 7 and 8.

“North Korea is emphasizing that a small country like itself is facing the United States and has requested support from China,” a former high-ranking government official said. “It is weighing whether to tighten its blood ties [with China] and enter the [U.S.] summit talks emboldened or exercise restraint and appeasement.”

The JoongAng Ilbo reported last month that Xi promised Kim in their Dalian summit active support for North Korea even if the North-U.S. summit does not turn out well.

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Kim in Pyongyang, opening the possibility of a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump last month noted “a little change in attitude from Kim Jong-un” following his second summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Dalian at the beginning of May, saying he was a “little disappointed.”

Trump told reporters Friday on Lavrov’s meeting with Kim Jong-un, “I didn’t like the Russian meeting yesterday. I said, ‘What’s the purpose of that?’” He continued, “If it’s a positive meeting, I love it. If it’s a negative meeting, I’m not happy.”

Chinese and Hong Kong media have reported that a summit between the leaders of the Russia, China and North Korea could take place as early as Saturday, just ahead of the Kim-Trump meeting.

Russian President Putin is scheduled for a three-day state visit to China to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong Province, which takes place on June 9 and 10 and will be chaired by Xi.

There is also a chance Kim may have a bilateral summit with Putin.

South Korean government officials say they cannot confirm anything. However, the possibility of North Korea holding such a trilateral or bilateral summit is being kept open.

A Seoul government source said, “Right after Foreign Minister Lavrov visited Pyongyang on May 31, North Korean media reported that the two sides agreed to a North-Russia summit. The two countries have not revealed a summit date, but depending on the situation, it could come before a summit with the United States.” Lavrov held talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho in early May in Moscow, and his return visit Thursday, the first trip by a Russian foreign minister to Pyongyang in nine years, came in less than a month. Observers point out that this could indicate Putin’s interest in holding a summit with Kim and wishing to give some input on the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

“President Trump shaking up the game through his public letter on May 24 [canceling the North Korea summit] can be a part of a plan to brush off China,” said Jung Chang-hyun, a North Korea and modern Korean history expert. “North Korea, even while it’s holding talks with the United States, will be considering maintaining support from China and Russia, or both countries, as an insurance method as well as a means to lure capital.”

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]