Clock counts down to first Kim-Putin summit

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Clock counts down to first Kim-Putin summit

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A black armored limousine suspected to be North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s is seen at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia, which is seen as a likely summit venue. It was not confirmed if Kim was in the vehicle. [YONHAP]

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will visit Russia for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pyongyang’s state media announced Tuesday, as both sides make final preparations for the meeting.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim “will soon pay a visit to the Russian Federation at the invitation” of Putin and that the two leaders “will have talks during the visit.” It did not offer further details.

North Korean state media usually does not report its leader’s overseas trips in advance, but recently covered nearly without delay Kim’s travels to Vietnam in February for his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim and Putin are expected to hold their first summit Wednesday or Thursday in Vladivostok, likely at the Far Eastern Federal University on Russky Island, considered ideal for tight security.

The university, founded in 1899, has a hotel on campus which could serve as lodging for the North Korean delegation and has hosted many international events, including the 2012 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and the annual Eastern Economic Forum.

A banner reading “Welcome” in Korean decorated the premises of the Far Eastern Federal University, and workers were seen putting up North Korean and Russian flags around campus.

Around 11 a.m. Tuesday, an Air Koryo passenger flight and cargo plane landed in Vladivostok, Russia, bringing in North Korean security officials and equipment, joining officials on the ground who have been making summit preparations since the weekend.

Armored limousines seen to be a Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guard and a Maybach S62 were spotted later being driven into the Far Eastern Federal University. It was not confirmed if Kim was in the vehicles or whether it had been sent ahead for him to use. Kim had been expected to make the trip from Pyongyang to Vladivostok on his armored train, but analysts did not rule out the possibility of him flying in.

Russia’s Tass news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Monday that the preparations “have entered the final stage,” while still not giving the exact date, adding that the “encounter will take place before the end of April.”

Russian media reported that Kim will stay from today to Friday. Putin on Friday departs for Beijing to attend a forum on China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The two sides are working toward the signing of a joint statement by the two leaders after their talks, a source familiar with North Korea and Russia relations told the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday.

North Korea and Russia have “worked to speed along a summit ever since the second North-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, broke down in February,” said this source. “This year marks the 70th anniversary of North Korea and Russia’s economic and culture cooperation agreement, but the two sides have also been meeting more frequently since there has been no progress in North Korea and U.S. negotiations.”

The source said that North Korean and Russian working-level officials have framed the agenda for the leader’s meeting.

The negotiators have drafted a joint agreement, according to this source.

However, it is unclear if the two sides will release a joint statement on what was agreed on by the two leaders or just release a lengthy summarization, as was the case for the North Korea-China summit in January.

“Russia, along with China, has continued to support the method of denuclearization pushed by North Korea,” said a South Korean government official. “Through the summit, President Putin is expected to reconfirm this with North Korea.”

This will also provide North Korea backing in its negotiations with the United States.

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, last week made a trip to Moscow ahead of the Kim-Putin summit.

“The Kremlin has mentioned the development of North-Russia bilateral relations, the denuclearization issue and regional cooperation,” said Kim In-chul, the South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, on the summit Tuesday.

This would mark the first summit between the leaders of North Korea and Russia in eight years.

Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il held a summit with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in August 2011, his first trip to Russia since 2002 and months before his death that December.

The late Kim in 2011 took his armored train and made a stop in Khasan in the Russian Far East. Putin visited Pyongyang in 2000, and Kim Jong-il reciprocated a visit to Moscow in 2001 and to Russia’s Far East in 2002.

BY SARAH KIM, JEONG YONG-SOO [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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