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Pyongyang brags of warm Moscow ties

July 20,2018
Pyongyang highlighted “constantly improving ties” with Moscow in a newspaper editorial published Thursday on the anniversary of a major declaration signed by the countries’ leaders 18 years ago, suggesting that the Kim Jong-un regime is relying on its strongest allies - China and Russia - for leverage against the United States in denuclearization talks.

In a lengthy editorial carried by the Rodong Sinmun, one of North Korea’s official mouthpieces, Pyongyang said its leader Kim Jong-un valued North-Russia relations and was showing “great interest” in improving the friendship.

Mentioning that 2018 marked the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations, the newspaper continued that it was North Korea’s official stance to strengthen bilateral “strategic and traditional” ties in a way that benefits both countries’ people and the “demands of the new era.”

The editorial did not specify what those demands were, but underscored that the prospects of North-Russia relations were “bright.”

Thursday marked the 18th anniversary of the signing of a joint declaration between former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang on July 19, 2000.

During his first visit to North Korea, Putin held a summit with Kim and agreed to make positive efforts for disarmament, global stability and security against all policies of aggression and war. They also agreed that neither would sign with a third country any treaties or agreements detrimental to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the other party, and to actively develop trade, economic, scientific and technological ties between the two sides.

The Rodong Sinmun article came as North Korea reaches out to its strongest allies - China and Russia - amid ongoing denuclearization negotiations with the United States. Local pundits see a diplomatic gambit by the regime to seek economic support, security assurances, political backing and - most crucially - negotiating power.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Pyongyang on May 31 and met with Kim Jong-un, two weeks before the North Korean leader was to hold his landmark summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore.

In a recent meeting between Lavrov and North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, read the Rodong Sinmun article Thursday, without mentioning any dates, both envoys held “deep discussions” on ways to collect “tangible results” on the occasion of this year’s 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

Russia’s Vice Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov led a delegation to Pyongyang Wednesday for meetings with North Korean officials, though the regime did not specify what topics they were to discuss or whether they were expecting to meet with Kim.

One possible agenda item could be Kim’s participation in the Russia-hosted Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, which runs for three days from Sept. 11.

The Blue House confirmed South Korean President Moon Jae-in was invited but refused to say whether a trilateral meeting involving Kim, Moon and Putin was in the works.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]