North Korea using Russia as leverage for nuclear talks     DATE: 2024-07-15 15:44:28

By Yi Whan-woo

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. / AFP-Yonhap
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. / AFP-Yonhap

By Yi Whan-woo
Kim Jong-un to meet Putin in Russia: KCNA Kim Jong-un to meet Putin in Russia: KCNA 2019-04-23 09:58  |  North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will come to Russia later this month to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the Kremlin. This will be Kim's first visit to Russia after seizing power in December 2011.

It fuels speculation that the North is trying to use Russia as leverage in future nuclear talks after his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam in late February.

Kim has not had any summits since then.

"Following an invitation from Vladimir Putin ... Kim Jong-un will visit Russia in the second half of April," the Kremlin said on its website Thursday.

The announcement comes after North Korea said it had tested a new tactical weapon with a "powerful warhead," as denuclearization talks with Washington appear to have stalled.

The Kremlin did not provide details of the exact date or location of the meeting but some diplomatic sources speculate it will take place in the Russian Far East.

The sources also speculate that Kim and Putin are expected to back a series of North Korea-style small deals, as opposed to a U.S.-style big deal for the denuclearization process.

Some analysts say Kim's planned Russia visit is aimed at seeking all possible ways to evade the U.S.-led international sanctions, which the North has demanded be eased in return for taking nuclear disarmament steps.

"It would be too exaggerated to say Kim is trying to create a rift on the sanctions against the North simply by meting Putin," said Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University. "Kim, however, will be able to consult on ways to exploit loopholes in the sanctions and continue to endure them."

Among the possible options are having Russia issue a short-term visa for North Korean workers in Siberia.

Russia is believed to have as many as 30,000 North Korean workers, which is the second-highest after China.

The Kim regime was suspected of pocketing the workers' wages to develop its nuclear program. Many countries have been refusing to extend the workers' visas after the U.N. Security Council asked the countries to force the North Koreans to return home by the end of 2019.

Kim Hyun-wook, a Korea National Diplomatic Academy professor, said the North may be trying to "diversify" its nuclear diplomacy with the U.S., China and Russia.

"It, of course, does not mean the sanctions will crumble. The North still may be trying to irk the U.S.," the professor said.

The analysts said the U.S., although not fully concerned, is making sure the Kim-Putin meeting will not disrupt the sanctions. They referred to U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun's visit to Moscow and his meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, Thursday.

Citing a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia's Tass agency said Biegun and Morgulov discussed ways to accomplish the final, fully verified denuclearization of the North.

Russia's foreign ministry also confirmed the two sides exchanged views in detail on the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

The North apparently has been stepping up efforts to bolster ties with Cold War allies after the Hanoi summit's collapse.

Kim has highlighted "trust" and "friendship" with China, in a message answering Chinese President Xi Jinping's congratulations on his re-election last week as chairman of the State Affairs Commission.

The Korean Central News Agency reported Friday that Kim emphasized bilateral relations and that they need to work together to advance their ties during this "very crucial period."