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Spurned by Washington, Kim seeks closer ties with Putin

Updated April 26, 2019

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VLADIVOSTOK: Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands on Thursday. — AFP
VLADIVOSTOK: Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands on Thursday. — AFP

VLADIVOSTOK: North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin vowed to seek closer ties as they met for the first time on Thursday, in talks aimed at countering US influence.

Putin emerged from the meeting in Russia’s Vladivostok saying that like Washington, Moscow supports efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula and prevent nuclear conflicts.

But he insisted that Pyongyang “needs guarantees of its security, the preservation of its sovereignty”, and took a veiled swipe at the US for trying to strong-arm North Korea. “We need to ... return to a state where international law, not the law of the strongest, determines the situation in the world,” Putin said.

The summit in the Far Eastern port city came with Kim locked in a nuclear stand-off with the United States and Putin keen to put Moscow forward as a player in another global flashpoint.

The two leaders greeted each other warmly, shaking hands and sharing smiles, at the start of meetings on an island off Vladivostok that lasted nearly five hours.

Putin, known for delaying meetings with international guests, was waiting for Kim when he emerged from his limousine. Both men said they were looking to strengthen ties that date back to the Soviet Union’s support for the founder of North Korea, Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung.

Borscht, crab, dumplings

Kim said he hoped to turn the modern relationship with Moscow into a “more stable and sound one” while Putin said the visit would give a boost to diplomatic and economic ties.

Putin said he supported Kim’s efforts to normalise relations with the United States and hoped to find out “what Russians can do” to help with the issue of denuclearisation.

The two later shared a lunch that included borscht, crab salad and venison dumplings, Russian news agency TASS reported.

Putin told reporters after Kim departed that he would fill in Washington on the results of the talks. “There are no secrets here, no conspiracies ... Chairman Kim himself asked us to inform the American side of our position,” said Putin.

Kim, who arrived a day earlier in his armoured train, was expected to stay in Vladivostok until Friday for cultural events that Russian media have reported will include a ballet and a visit to the city’s aquarium.

The meeting was Kim’s first 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 North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

It followed repeated invitations from Putin after Kim embarked on a series of diplomatic overtures last year.

Since March 2018, the 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.

At the meeting with Trump in Hanoi, the cash-strapped North demanded immediate relief from sanctions, but the talks broke up in disagreement over what Pyongyang was prepared to give up in return.

There were no concrete announcements or agreements, but analysts said Thursday’s meeting was valuable to both sides.

“For North Korea, it’s all about securing another exit. China talks about sanctions relief but it doesn’t really put it into action,” said Koo Kab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “For Russia, North Korea is elevating it back to one of the direct parties, on the same footing as China.”

Soon after his first election as Russian president, Putin sought to normalise relations and met Kim Jong II — the current leader’s father and predecessor — three times, including a 2002 meeting also held in Vladivostok.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019