Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Thursday they had good talks about their joint efforts to resolve a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear program, amid stalled negotiations with the United States.
Speaking at the start of the discussions at a university on the Russky Island across a bridge from Vladivostok, Putin voiced confidence that Kim's visit will "help better understand what should be done to settle the situation on the Korean Peninsula, what we can do together, what Russia can do to support the positive processes going on now."
Kim's first trip to Russia comes about two months after his second summit with President Donald Trump failed because of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on the North. Putin meanwhile wants to expand Russia's clout in the region and get more leverage with Washington.
"We welcome your efforts to develop an inter-Korean dialogue and normalize North Korea's relations with the United States," Putin told Kim.
Following their one-on-one meeting at the start of broader talks involving officials from both sides, Putin and Kim said they had a good discussion.
"We discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula and exchanged opinions about what should be done to improve the situation and how to do it," Putin said. Kim noted that they had a "very meaningful exchange."
"The reason we visited Russia this time is to meet and share opinions with your excellency, President Putin, and also share views on the Korean Peninsula and regional political situation, which has garnered the urgent attention of the world, and also hold deep discussions on strategic ways to pursue stability in the regional political situation and on the matters of jointly managing the situation," Kim said.
He also congratulated the Russian leader on his re-election to another six-year term last year.
In February, Trump-Kim talks ended without any agreement because of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions. There have since been no publicly known high-level contacts between the U.S. and North Korea, although both sides say they are still open to a third summit.
Kim wants the U.S. to ease the sanctions to reciprocate for some partial disarmament steps he took last year. But the U.S. maintains the sanctions will stay in place until North Korea makes more significant denuclearization moves.
North Korea has increasingly expressed frustration at the deadlocked negotiations. Last week, it tested a new weapon and demanded that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from the nuclear talks.
Kim arrived in Vladivostok Wednesday aboard an armored train, telling Russian state television that he was hoping that his first visit to Russia would "successful and useful." He evoked his father's "great love for Russia" and said that he intends to strengthen ties between the two countries. The late Kim Jong Il made three trips to Russia, last time in 2011.
Like the U.S., Russia has strongly opposed Pyongyang's nuclear bid. Putin has welcomed Trump's meetings with Kim, but urged the U.S. to do more to assuage Pyongyang's security concerns.
Ahead of the talks, Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said that Russia will seek to "consolidate the positive trends" stemming from Trump-Kim meetings. He noted that the Kremlin would try to help "create preconditions and a favorable atmosphere for reaching solid agreements on the problem of the Korean Peninsula."
Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that Putin will likely encourage Kim to continue constructive talks with the U.S., reflecting Russia's own worry about the North nuclear and missile programs. "Russia can't be expected to side with North Korea and, let's say, support the North Koreans all the way in the Security Council where Russia is a veto wielding member and where all sanctions imposed on North Korea require Russia's approval," he said.
Trenin emphasized that Moscow is skeptical that the North could be persuaded to fully abandon its nuclear weapons, considering it a "mission impossible."
"North Korea will not give up the only guarantee of the survival of the North Korean state and its regime," Trenin said.
Russia would also like to gain broader access to North Korea's mineral resources, including rare metals. Pyongyang, for its part, covets Russia's electricity supplies and investment to modernize its dilapidated Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.
Vladivostok, a city of more than half a million on the Sea of Japan, faced gridlock on its roads as traffic was blocked in the city center due to Kim's visit. The authorities have temporarily closed the waters around Russky Island to all maritime traffic.
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