North Korean, Russian Leaders to Discuss Nuke Issue

Reclusive North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il on Saturday began a rare visit to Russia, where he is expected to discuss his nation's nuclear program and energy issues with President Dmitry Medvedev, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Aug. 19).

Russia is one of the nations involved in the long-frozen six-party talks on North Korean denuclearization. Other participating states are China, Japan, the United States and both Koreas. Negotiations were last held in December 2008, though a recent flurry of diplomatic meetings has suggested they could be resumed at some point.

Kim last traveled to Russia in 2002. South Korean news organizations said the summit between Kim and Medvedev might occur on Tuesday or Wednesday (Berry/Kim, Associated Press I/Time, Aug. 21).

The summit is anticipated to take place not far from Lake Baikal in Ulan-Ude on Tuesday, according to Reuters. Moscow announced the meeting in a brief statement but did not provide the location or the timing of the event (Lidia Kelly, Reuters, Aug. 21).

Russian armed forces officers reached North Korea on Monday for five days of discussions about resuming military collaboration with Pyongyang, AP reported. The Russian Defense Ministry said the military meetings would consider "possibilities of joint exercises and training of search and rescue operations for sinking vessels as well as providing assistance to people during natural disasters."

Analyst Alexander Golts said Pyongyang's aim in seeking the bilateral military talks might be to address Russian worries about security in the North. Moscow is looking at installing a natural gas pipeline through the Stalinist state. Golts said there was very little chance of the Kremlin resuming weapons sales to North Korea (Vasilyeva/Kim, Associated Press II/Miami Herald, Aug. 22).

Should Medvedev and Kim reach a tentative accord on bilateral energy initiatives, the standoff over the North's nuclear operations are likely to make it harder to fine-tune any agreements, the New York Times reported.

Experts in South Korea have different views on whether the pipeline project would help international efforts to convince the Stalinist state to back away from its longstanding nuclear-weapon aspirations.

Kim on multiple occasions has declared he would "open the door for a strong and prosperous nation" no later than next year, Dongguk University academic Kim Yong-hyun said. The aging dictator must now "present [the North Korean people] with something that will give them hopes and expectations" (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, Aug. 21).

In Moscow, Institute of the Far East Korea expert Konstantin Asmolov said "the main result of the visit is the very fact of the visit," Agence France-Presse reported.

"Everything that Russia and North Korea can discuss now either will fail to break the impasse or concerns various long-term projects," Asmolov said.

Kim is anticipated to request Kremlin backing in attempts to relaunch the six-party talks. Pyongyang has said it would return to the negotiations on an unconditional basis, but Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have said they want the aspiring nuclear power to provide proof of its commitment to nuclear disarmament before they will return to talks. Moscow's position on whether there should be conditions is less clear. Beijing has backed the North's calls for a speedy resumption of negotiations (Agence France-Presse/Channel News Asia, Aug. 22).

August 22, 2011
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Reclusive North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il on Saturday began a rare visit to Russia, where he is expected to discuss his nation's nuclear program and energy issues with President Dmitry Medvedev, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Aug. 19).