Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down for talks Thursday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying the summit should help plan joint efforts to resolve a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear program.
Speaking at the start of the talks 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.
For his part, Kim noted that with the world's attention now concentrated on the Korean Peninsula, "I think we will have a very meaningful dialogue on sharing our opinions on this matter while also jointly apprising and studying it."
He also congratulated the Russian leader on his reelection 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.
Speaking before 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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