Spurned by Washington, North Korea’s Kim seeks a friend in Putin

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday at a summit designed to show that Washington is not the only power able to set the agenda on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

The two men embarked on a day of talks on an island off the Russian Pacific city of Vladivostok two months after Kim’s summit with U.S. President Donald Trump ended in disagreement, cooling hopes of a breakthrough in the decades-old nuclear row.

Putin and Kim, in their first ever face-to-face encounter, smiled broadly and shook hands outside the summit venue, a university campus. They then stood side by side on an escalator, chatting with help from interpreters, as they made their way to an upper floor to begin their talks.

In brief opening remarks in front of the media, Putin said he hoped Kim’s visit would “help us better understand by what means we can reach a settlement on the Korean peninsula, what we can do together, what Russia can do to support the positive processes now underway.”

“Without question we welcome your efforts to develop dialogue between the Koreas, and to normalise North Korean-U.S. relations,” Putin said.

Kim, who had arrived in Vladivostok a day earlier on board his armoured train, told Putin the meeting would help strengthen and develop ties between Russia and North Korea, which share a long history of friendship.

“As world attention is focused on the Korean Peninsula, there will be very meaningful dialogue for us to jointly assess the Korean peninsula policies and share, coordinate and study our views,” Kim said.

The summit in Vladivostok provides Pyongyang with an opportunity to seek support from a new quarter, Russia, and possible relief from the sanctions hurting its economy.

For the Kremlin, the summit is a chance to show it is a global diplomatic player, despite efforts by the United States and other Western states to isolate it.

But with Moscow committed to upholding sanctions until the North dismantles its nuclear programme, analysts said the summit was unlikely to produce any tangible help for Pyongyang, beyond a show of camaraderie.

KEPT WAITING

Putin has a track record of making world leaders wait for him, but on Wednesday the Russian leader arrived at the venue around half an hour before Kim showed up, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.

Putin’s last summit with a North Korean leader was in 2002 when his counterpart was Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor. Kim Jong Il also met in 2011 with Dmitry Medvedev, the Putin lieutenant who was then Russian president.

Thursday’s summit was taking place on the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University, a complex that back in 2012 played host to an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Classes were going on as normal and students were walking a few metres from the building where Kim and Putin were meeting. Members of the Russian president’s security detail were dotted around the campus.

Buildings were decked out with the Russian and North Korean flags. A concert is planned for the two leaders later in the day, and an orchestra was rehearsing in the hall where they were due to perform.

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