Jong-un’s envoy ends Russia trip

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Jong-un’s envoy ends Russia trip

North Korea’s special envoy to Russia wrapped up his Moscow trip on Monday, bolstering the friendship between the two nations and possibly arranging a summit between their two leaders.

Choe Ryong-hae, a senior North Korean Workers’ Party official, arrived in Moscow last Monday for a weeklong trip as Kim Jong-un’s special envoy. He met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday and delivered a letter from Kim.

On Thursday, he met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss a wide range of issues. Choe traveled to Khabarovsk on Friday and he is scheduled to return to Pyongyang on Monday.

After North Korea announced earlier this month that Choe, a key aide to Kim, would be sent to Russia as a special envoy, speculation was high that his mission would include the arranging of a summit between the two countries’ leaders. The possibility of a summit was mentioned by Lavrov at a press conference on Thursday after he met with Choe.

Russia is ready to have contacts with North Korea at various levels including the highest, Lavrov said.

If a Kim-Putin summit is realized, it will be the young ruler’s first meeting with a foreign leader since he assumed power in 2012. If Kim visits Russia for the summit, it will also be a significant change from the North’s decades-long tradition of treating China as the top diplomatic priority.

Choe visited China last year as Kim’s envoy, but Kim has yet to visit China and have a summit with President Xi Jinping.

Pyongyang has stepped up efforts recently to diversify its diplomatic relations with countries other than longtime ally China as its ties with Beijing go through an unprecedentedly rocky stretch. Russia, which seeks to play a bigger role in the region, welcomed the North’s approach.

Through Choe’s trip, the North also secured Russia’s support on other issues including the resumption of stalled six-party nuclear talks and the United Nations’ move to adopt a strongly worded resolution to condemn North Korea’s human rights abuses.

After the Thursday meeting with Choe, Lavrov said the North is ready to return to the six-party nuclear talks without preconditions. The talks, involving the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States, were discontinued in 2009. Washington has made clear it won’t go back unless Pyongyang shows genuine commitment to its denuclearization pledges.

The North also secured Russia’s clear opposition to the UN resolution, which included a possibility of international prosecution of the North’s leaders including Kim Jong-un at the International Criminal Court. Although the resolution will unlikely be approved at the UN Security Council due to opposition by China and Russia, the North has reacted sensitively to the international community’s unprecedented move to hold its leaders accountable for human rights abuses.

During Choe’s trip, North Korea also secured economic cooperation projects with Russia. Choe visited Russia’s Far East to push forward plans for agricultural and industrial cooperation, Radio Free Asia reported.

In Khabarovsk, Choe met with governor of Russia’s Khabarovsk Krai territory, Vyacheslav Shport, and discussed a plan to expand agricultural exchanges. The North is pushing a project of renting more than 10,000 hectares of farmlands in Khabarovsk to operate vegetable and livestock farms and processing factories.

While Russia provides the land, the North plans to provide labor and equipment.

Initial discussions on the project took place last month when North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong visited the second-largest city in Russia’s Far East region. A plan to create a direct flight route connecting Khabarovsk and Pyongyang was also discussed.

A delegation from the North’s Agricultural Ministry also visited Khabarovsk to discuss the project earlier this month.

Since last year, about 2,000 North Korean workers were exported to Khabarovsk and about 20 percent are working in the timber industry. The city also has 15 companies invested by the North.


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