North Korean leader Kim Jong-il headed to China yesterday after completing Siberian talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in which he offered a nuclear concession greeted with suspicion by Washington and South Korea.
A source in the administration of the Russian region of Chita on China’s border said the armored train carrying the 69-year-old Kim would travel across its leg of the Trans-Siberian Railway shortly.
“He will be passing through our region,” the Chita administration source said. “He is not in China yet.”
It was not clear whether Kim — known for shunning air travel and taking extraordinary security measures — would be stopping in China or heading directly home.
Kim’s third trip to Russia in a decade was crowned on Wednesday by his first personal meeting with Medvedev at a Siberian garrison near the traditionally Buddhist city of Ulan-Ude. The talks ended with a Kremlin announcement that North Korea was ready to resume nuclear dialogue without preconditions and abandon atomic enrichment and testing once the talks begin.
However, both the US and South Korea dismissed the proposal as nothing new.
“If it’s true, [it’s a] welcome first step, but far from enough ... to resume the six-party talks,” US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
South Korean officials demanded that the North abandon its nuclear program before assuming negotiations on the potential lifting of sanctions and provision of international aid for the country.
“I don’t see any particular progress,” South Korean Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Shin Maeng-ho said.
Shin told journalists that Kim’s reported statement was ambiguous about what the North will do about its nuclear activities before or after the six-party talks resume.
Another Seoul government source told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency the meeting “fell short of expectations.”
The JoongAng Ilbo quoted an unidentified government official as saying that Seoul wanted the six-party talks to resume at an early date.
“But the key is whether the North takes actions for denuclearization before the talks resume. In that sense, the recent announcement fails to show North Korea’s sincerity in purpose,” the official told the daily.
Moscow’s Kommersant business daily noted simply that Medvedev “failed to reach a global breakthrough on North Korea.”