Kim Jong-il arrived in an eastern Siberian city for talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, reports said Tuesday, as the leader of impoverished North Korea was expected to discuss a natural gas pipeline deal with its Cold War ally.
Pyongyang’s reclusive leader is expected to hold the summit near the city of Ulan-Ude on Wednesday, the fifth day of his first trip to Russia in nine years.
Reports said the two leaders may meet at Sosnovyi Bor, a Russian military base that has often been the venue for secretive meetings, or the village of Turka, some 169 kilometers west of Ulan-Ude. Heir apparent Kim Jong-un does not appear to be accompanying his father, sources said.
Kim, who rarely travels abroad and is still recovering from a stroke he suffered in 2008, appears to have made the visit to win Russia’s support in resuming the stalled multinational denuclearization talks and secure financial backup, analysts say.
Kim’s car was spotted in Ulan-Ude on Tuesday morning, reports said, quoting sources that saw Kim being greeted by Russian officials at the station. Russian police blocked routes leading to the station one hour before Kim’s arrival, apparently accepting his wishes to remain unseen to the public, they said.
Russian military officials, meanwhile, arrived in the North Korean capital on Monday for a five-day visit, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency that reported from Pyongyang. The Russian Defense Ministry said the talks would focus on the renewal of military cooperation between the countries, possible joint exercises of a humanitarian nature and an exchange of friendly visits by Russian and North Korean ships.
Kim’s trip to Russia comes as the North is struggling to secure more outside assistance ahead of the 100th birthday of its late founder Kim Il-sung, the father of the incumbent Kim.
The communist state also hopes to persuade dialogue partners to restart the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, through which it had received food and fuel for many years until the negotiations came to a halt at the end of 2008.
Partners of the talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., Russia, China and Japan, have been increasing bilateral discussions to decide when and how to resume the dialogue.
With South Korea, the U.S. and Japan maintaining a lukewarm attitude after its deadly attacks against Seoul last year, it is important for North Korea to secure steady support from its traditional allies China and Russia for early resumption of the talks.
Pyongyang apparently also wants to discuss economic cooperation with Moscow upon its leader’s visit, analysts say.
Crossing the border via a train on Saturday, Kim reportedly visited a hydroelectric power plant in eastern Siberia’s Amur region before arriving in Ulan-Ude.
Upon his visit to the largest plan in Russia’s Far East, Kim was briefed on the plant’s history and electricity production capacity and praised the enormous building, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported from Pyongyang.
Russia has proposed transmitting surplus electricity produced by the Amur plant to both North and South Korea, South Korean media reported.
Among the topics of the Kim-Medvedev talks are the construction of a pipeline that would stream Russian natural gas through the North’s territory to the South.
Once the rare deal is finalized Pyongyang, which has relied heavily on outside aid to feed its population of 24 million since the late 1990s, could earn up to $100 million each year, according to Seoul’s estimation.
Negotiations over the purported project, however, have been unable to move forward in recent years due to the nuclear deadlock.
Officials from Russia’s state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom visited North Korea in early July for talks on the gas pipeline.
North Korean officials at the time reacted positively to the project, a change from a previous reluctant position, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.
Economic and diplomatic ties between Pyongyang and Moscow weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago, after which Russia focused on adapting capitalist policies.
North Korea has since relied heavily on China for trade, aid and diplomatic assistance with Kim making three trips to the ally country in just over a year.
Not wanting Beijing to become the sole benefactor with the power to influence Pyongyang, Russia has been making effort to forge the energy cooperation deal with the North.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, currently on his trip to Mongolia called Kim’s Russia visit “a positive development” as such trips will naturally help North Korea develop visions of an open society, his office said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Russia - as a partner in the six-party talks shared the views of all dialogue partners.
“In order to get back to the talks, we need an improvement in North-South relations, and we need the (North) to show concrete steps toward denuclearization,” she said. “One would hope and expect that if we have the leader in Russia, that these points are being made to him.”
By Shin Hae-in and news reports (firstname.lastname@example.org