North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday arrived in Vladivostok, Russia, a day ahead of his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kim set out for Russia via his private train in the early hours of Wednesday and arrived in the Russian border city of Khasan at about 10:40 a.m., before moving on to Vladivostok, where he arrived some six hours later.
In an interview with Russian media after a welcome ceremony in Khasan, Kim hinted at strengthening cooperation with Moscow in regional security issues.
“I believe (the summit) will be an opportunity for very beneficial conversation in jointly managing and controlling regional issues,” Kim said in the interview.
According to the North’s Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean leader is accompanied by top aides, including vice chairmen of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee — Kim Phyong-hae and O Su-yong — and Ri Yong-ho and Choe Son-hui.
Ri is the North’s foreign minister and Choe is vice foreign minister. Kim Yong-chol, another vice chairman of the party, was not included among names listed by the KCNA. Kim Yong-chol, the North’s top nuclear negotiator, had accompanied Kim Jong-un on all his previous overseas trips.
According to an official with South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee, Kim Yong-chol has been replaced with Jang Kum-chol.
Kim Jong-un’s meeting with Putin is scheduled to be held in Vladivostok on Thursday, and the two leaders are expected to focus on economic cooperation and matters surrounding denuclearization.
According to Japanese news reports citing Russian sources, Putin plans to suggest resuming six-party talks, and that Moscow has conveyed the plans to Beijing and Washington.
Six-party talks — the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the US — were launched in 2003 to resolve North Korean issues. However, the talks were halted in December 2008.
Resumption of the six-party talks would fall in line with Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s speech, in which he said “multilateral negotiations for converting the current armistice into a peace regime must be actively sought.”
Since the second US-North Korea summit ended without making any progress in denuclearization dialogue in Hanoi late February, Pyongyang has been highlighting its ties to Beijing and Moscow.
North Korean media have repeatedly stressed the strength of the regime’s ties with its two traditional allies in recent weeks. The North has also opened a monthlong exhibition in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties with China, and North Korean media on Friday reported on Kim Jong-un’s personal letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping. According to North Korean reports, Kim thanked Xi for congratulating him for being re-elected as the party’s leader, and described China-North Korea relations as being mutually supportive “as members of a family.”
Pyongyang has also made a show of Kim Jong-un attending military events, including a test of a newly developed guided weapons system.
The North reporting on its leader’s military engagements has been interpreted by South Korean experts as a ploy to show Seoul and Washington that it will maintain military readiness and not negotiate from a disadvantage.
As for Kim Jong-un’s itinerary beyond the summit with Putin, details remain unknown but it has been reported the North Korean leader may stay in Russia until Friday, visiting facilities inspected by his protocol chief Kim Chang-son.
Facilities that Kim Chang-son visited include Russia’s Pacific Fleet headquarters, food factories and a public aquarium.