Russia Summit: Putin Pledges Normalize US-North Korea Relations
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, April 25, 2019. Photo by Indian Express.

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to served as an intermediary with the United States (US) after his nuclear disarmament talks with President Donald Trump collapsed in February, the Russian president has said on Thursday (04/25).

He also said Russia welcomed Kim’ efforts to normalize North Korean – US relations. Thursday’ first-ever meeting between the Russian and North Korean leaders in Vladivostok has allowed Moscow to reinsert itself into the dialogue around denuclearization, as Putin heads to China, where he will discuss the issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Chairman Kim asked us to inform the American side of his position on questions that have arisen amid the processes taking place on the Korean peninsula,” Putin told journalists as quoted by Associated Press.

He added, “So there are no secrets here. We will discuss this with our American and Chinese friends.”

Last week, Pyongyang demanded Trump replace his “reckless” point man on the nuclear talks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and claimed it had tested a new tactical guided weapon with a powerful warhead.

“It is my and my government’s firm strategic position that the strategic and traditionally friendly relations between North Korea and Russia be strengthened,” Kim said during the talks, but did not join the press conference afterward.

Putin said Russia was in favor of Pyongyang’ full denuclearization, but suggested that Washington’ overreaching demands and supposedly threatening posture were hindering this. In a clear shot at the US, Putin said he and Kim had discussed the need to “return to a situation when international law, not the law of the fist, decides the order of things in the world”.

Russia and China drafted a road map in 2017 calling for a step-by-step approach to rolling back North Korea’ nuclear program, while Trump has sought sweeping disarmament in exchange for immediate sanctions relief.

A summit in Vietnam in last February broke down when the American president reportedly rejected a North Korean offer of partial disarmament in exchange for reduced sanctions. Since then, North Korea has complained that intermediaries to Trump, ranging from his state secretary Pompeo to the South Korean government, aren’t getting his message across.

While Russia extended the invitation to Kim almost a year ago, the North Korean leader only accepted after the Hanoi talks with Trump broke down. Kim had told North Korea’ parliament in a speech earlier this month that he would wait until the end of the year for the US to change its position.

While that means more time under punishing international sanctions, it also gives Kim space to continue developing his nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, US reportedly rejected a 2017 North Korea request for payment before the release of detained American student Otto Warmbier.

Earlier, North Korea presented the US with a $2 million medical bill before allowing Warmbier to be flown to the US, where he later died.

Thursday’ talks were a chance for Kim to reduce Washington’s leverage in negotiations by showing he has other international partners, while Putin can position Russia as a major player in the Asian region. North Korean denuclearization is one of the few areas where the US has continued dialogue with Russia, sending an envoy to Moscow to discuss the issue earlier this month.

While Putin said the two sides discussed sanctions during more than two-and-a-half hours of talks, he did not provide further details. It was thought Kim could seek humanitarian food aid and sanctions relief from Russia, which voted for the punitive measures in the United Nations (UN) but has been accused of helping Pyongyang dodge restrictions on fuel imports.

Although trade with North Korea is a shadow of what it was during Soviet times, Putin said Russia was still seeking to establish a rail connection and gas pipeline to South Korea through the north, projects he said had been thwarted as a result of Washington’s influence over Seoul.

He said “calm, non-confrontational decisions” had been made about North Koreans who are still working in strict conditions in Russia after Moscow sent some 20,000 of them home to comply with UN sanctions.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union (of which Russia is the main successor state) maintained close military and trade links with its communist ally, North Korea, for ideological and strategic reasons. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, trade links with post-communist Russia shrank and North Korea leaned towards China as its main ally.

Under President Putin, Russia recovered economically and in 2014 he wrote off most of North Korea‘ Soviet-era debt in a major goodwill gesture. While it is arguable how much leverage Russia has with the North today, the communist state still regards it as one of the least hostile foreign powers.

Written by Lexy Nantu, Email: lexy@theinsiderstories.com

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