(Bloomberg) — Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted an invitation from Kim Jong Un to visit North Korea after the two held their first summit in four years, which the US believed centered on Pyongyang sending arms to help Moscow attack Ukraine.
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Kim’s propaganda apparatus hailed the meeting held at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome space center in the Amur region, with the official Korean Central News agency saying Thursday the two discussed issues of mutual interest to both countries, peace and security in the region and international justice.
“At the end of the reception, Kim Jong Un courteously invited Putin to visit the DPRK at a convenient time,” KCNA said, referring to the country by its formal name. “Putin accepted the invitation with pleasure and reaffirmed his will to invariably carry forward the history and tradition of the Russia-DPRK friendship.”
Kim left for his next destination, KCNA said without giving an indication of where that might be, calling the talks between Kim and Putin “an epoch-making event.” Kim will visit civilian and military equipment factories in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and also head to Vladivostok, Putin said earlier. One of the facilities Kim may tour is a plant that makes military aircraft.
Kim’s luxury armored train was expected to arrive at the destination late in the afternoon, local time, Yonhap News of South Korea reported, opening the possibility Kim could visit the aircraft plant on Friday. He could then go to Vladivostok on Saturday to see Russia’s Pacific fleet and meet military officials, and then head back to North Korea later that night, it said.
KCNA offered few specifics on any agreements reached at the talks.
If Putin visits Pyongyang, it would be the first time he has met Kim in North Korea. He traveled there once before in July 2000, to meet Kim Jong Il, the father of the current leader, who was at the center of international attention after he held a landmark summit in Pyongyang with then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung about a month earlier that raised new hopes of rapprochement on the divided peninsula.
“History tells us it’s rare for a Russian leader to go to North Korea since it’s usually the North Korean leader that makes the Russia visit,” said Lee Sang-Sook, a research professor who specializes in North Korea diplomacy and politics at the Korean National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.
“A visit by a Russian to Pyongyang only occurred when North Korea was considered strategically important to Russia, so if Putin goes to Pyongyang this time, North Korea is now strategically crucial to Russia,” she said.
The visit to the space facility underscored some of the items that may be on Kim Jong Un’s wish list in exchange for supplying munitions to Russia. Pyongyang has failed twice this year to deploy a spy satellite and could be seeking assistance from Moscow in putting one into orbit. Kim may also be seeking technology that would help his regime’s nuclear warheads survive the heat from reentry to the atmosphere.
North Korea has some of the world’s largest supplies of munitions that are interoperable with Soviet-era systems, which Russia needs as it burns through its stocks of artillery shells. The US has said any supplies would not alter the course of the war and has told Pyongyang it would pay a price for any arms transfers.
The US, Japan and South Korea have long said North Korea’s space program helps it develop ballistic missiles and is a violation of United Nations resolutions. Japanese and South Korean government officials expressed concern over the summit while US National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby said, “we obviously have concerns about any burgeoning defense relationship between North Korea and Russia.”
“No nation on the planet, nobody, should be helping Mr. Putin kill innocent Ukrainians,” Kirby said at a White House news briefing, adding if Moscow and Pyongyang move forward with arms deals, the US will take measures to deal with it.
–With assistance from Seyoon Kim and Shinhye Kang.
(Updates with comment from analyst and White House official.)
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