Reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said he was pleased to see Russia’s development, after being warmly welcomed by Russian officials at the start of a rare trip to the Cold War era ally, North Korean state media reported yesterday.
Kim crossed into Russia on his armored train on Saturday at the invitation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, with the two leaders reportedly planning a summit aimed at discussing the restart of nuclear disarmament talks and the construction of a pipeline that would stream Russian natural gas to North and South Korea.
Kim’s train stopped in the Russian border city of Khasan on Saturday morning before moving on to its next destination, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported from Pyongyang. KCNA and the Kremlin had said earlier that Kim would visit Russia’s Far East region and Siberia.
At Khasan’s railway station, Kim was warmly greeted by senior Russian officials, including Viktor Ishayev, presidential envoy to the far east region of the -Russian -Federation, KCNA said.
The Russian officials said Kim’s trip would “mark a historic occasion” in moving cooperative bilateral ties to a “fresher and higher stage,” KCNA said. Kim replied he was “very pleased” to see the achievement made by the Russian people and thanked Russian officials and people for warmly welcoming him, it said.
After leaving Khasan, Kim’s train continued to travel west, stopping briefly at the Khabarovsk railway station before arriving in Amur Region yesterday morning, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified diplomatic sources. In Amur, Kim was to tour a large-scale hydroelectric power plant, it said.
Kim’s visit to Russia — his first since 2002 — comes amid signs that Pyongyang is increasing efforts to secure aid and restart stalled six-nation disarmament negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program in return for aid.
Last month, a senior North Korean diplomat visited New York to discuss ways to resume the nuclear talks last held in December 2008. Earlier, the nuclear envoys of North and South Korea met in Indonesia and agreed to work toward the resumption of the talks, which involve the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan.
Russia and North Korea both announced on Friday that Moscow would provide food assistance, including about 45,359 tonnes of wheat, to Pyongyang. North Korea might face another food crisis this year due to heavy rains.
“The key reasons for Kim’s Russian visit are to discuss receiving food aid and improving economic cooperation between the two” countries, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
North Korea said last week that Medvedev sent a letter calling for greater energy cooperation among Russia and the two Koreas, saying it would enhance regional security. That came after Russia’s foreign minister said Moscow was in talks with Pyongyang and Seoul separately on putting gas pipes through the Korean Peninsula.
The pipeline construction is a chance “to include North Korea in a large international project that will give a new stimulus to the North Korean regime,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine.
“This is both gas and the transit money for gas” to South Korea, he said.
The 69-year-old Kim traveled to China in May in a trip seen by many as an attempt to secure aid, investment and support for a transfer of power to his youngest son. It was Kim’s third visit to his country’s closest ally in just over a year.