Kim’s response to Moscow invitation is ‘positive’

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Kim’s response to Moscow invitation is ‘positive’

Russia’s foreign minister said Wednesday North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has given a “positive” response to President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to visit Russia in May for the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany.

But Seoul has yet to decide whether President Park Geun-hye will also go.

“The president’s schedule for May has not been fixed and many other events are set to take place,” said Blue House spokesman Min Kyung-wook in a briefing Thursday. “We will be reviewing [whether or not to accept Russia’s invitation] under such circumstances … We are not in a situation yet to rush to come up with a stance.”

On Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Kim Jong-un’s response had been “positive, as a first signal.”

Ever since December, when Moscow invited the leaders of both Koreas to an event it plans to hold in May, keen attention has been paid to whether Park and Kim would come face to face for the first time.

If Kim goes to Moscow, it will be the first foreign visit by the 32-year-old ruler since he assumed power in 2011 and his debut on the stage of international diplomacy.

Kim signaled a change in his leadership style and deviation from his hermit-like predecessors when he said in a New Year’s address earlier this month that he would “proactively” expand and develop diplomatic relations while maintaining the nation’s dignity and interests.

After Russia was isolated internationally in the wake of its military incursions in Ukraine last year, its relations with North Korea notably improved. U.S. President Barack Obama has reportedly decided not to join the Moscow celebration in May.

But it remains to be seen whether Kim will choose to travel to Russia before he pays respects to the leaders of his greater ally, China.

North Korea-China ties have grown increasingly strained since Kim executed the second most powerful man in the country, his uncle Jang Song-taek, in late 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping also broke a longstanding Chinese tradition by coming to Seoul last year before visiting North Korea.

“The most obvious reason for North Korea to reach out to Russia is to move away from overdependence on China,” Georgy Toloraya, director of Korean programs at the Institute of Economy at the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote on 38 North, a website devoted to analysis of North Korea. “The state of Russia-North Korean relations is now approaching the possibility of discussing many projects, especially economic projects.”

Still, speculation is mounting that Kim will finally visit China in 2015 and many analysts predict he will opt to do so between February and April - before the May event in Russia.

Since 1995, Russia has hosted large-scale celebrations on May 9 each decade to mark the end of World War II, which it uses as an opportunity to bring world leaders together.

In 2005, the Roh Moo-hyun administration confirmed its attendance in early February in a tacit warning to North Korea’s leadership.

Fifty-three nations were invited to mark the anniversary that year and leaders in attendance included South Korean President Roh, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was not present.

Blue House officials said previously that Kim turning down the invitation will reduce the chance of President Park visiting Moscow to nil, whereas Pyongyang’s acceptance of the invitation would raise the probability of her going.


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