North Korean supremo in Russia for first talks with Putin

Updated April 25, 2019

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In this photo released by press office of the administration of Primorsky Krai region, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un leaves a train carriage after arriving at the border station of Khasan, Primorsky Krai region, Russia on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. — Alexander Safronov/Press Office of the Primorye Territory Administration via AP
In this photo released by press office of the administration of Primorsky Krai region, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un leaves a train carriage after arriving at the border station of Khasan, Primorsky Krai region, Russia on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. — Alexander Safronov/Press Office of the Primorye Territory Administration via AP

VLADIVOSTOK: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was looking forward to his first talks with President Vladimir Putin as he arrived in Russia on Wednesday seeking support in Pyongyang’s nuclear deadlock with the United States.

Kim’s armoured train rolled in to the Tsarist-era station in Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok, where the summit will take place on Thursday.

Wearing a long black coat and fedora, Kim stepped out onto a red carpet on the station platform before making his way outside where he was received by an honour guard and military band.

His limousine drove off after the ceremony, bodyguards in suits running alongside.

The talks, only confirmed at the last minute, will be Kim’s first face-to-face meeting with another head of state since returning from his Hanoi summit with US President Donald Trump, which broke down in February without a deal on the North’s nuclear arsenal.

“I hope this visit will be successful and useful,” Kim told Russian television in the border town of Khasan, where women in folk costumes welcomed him with bread and salt in a traditional greeting.

“I hope that during the talks... I will be able to have concrete discussions on resolving situations on the Korean Peninsula and on the development of our bilateral relationship,” Kim said.

Putin was due to arrive in Vladivostok on Thursday, then fly on after the talks for another summit in Beijing.

Russian and North Korean flags were flying on lamp posts on Vladivostok’s Russky island, where the summit is expected to take place at a university campus.

The island is connected to the rest of Vladivostok by a bridge built in 2012 that crosses a harbour used for commercial and naval ships.

Kim plans to stay on in Vladivostok on Friday for a series of cultural events, including a ballet and a visit to the city’s aquarium, Russian media reported.

The talks follow repeated invitations from Putin since 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.

Analysts say he is now looking for wider international support in his standoff with Washington, while Moscow is keen to inject itself into another global flashpoint.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said 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.

Kim’s right-hand man removed

North Korea has removed Kim Yong Chol, leader Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s counterpart, from a top post, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday citing a South Korean parliament official.

Kim Yong Chol has been the head of the United Front Department, the North Korean Workers’ Party apparatus that handles ties with South Korea and increasingly with the United States. Yonhap did not give a reason for his removal.

Kim Yong Chol has been leader Kim’s top envoy. He was prominent at a second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February, which broke down over disagreement on ending the North’s nuclear programme.

He visited the White House in January to meet Trump. South Korea’s National Intelli­gence Service could not immediately confirm the report.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2019