North Korean Leader Welcomed by Russian Officials
MOSCOW (AP) - Reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said he was pleased to see Russia's development, after being warmly welcomed by Russian officials at the start of a rare trip to the Cold War era ally, North Korean state media reported Sunday.
Kim crossed into Russia on his armored train Saturday at the invitation of President Dmitry Medvedev, with the two leaders reportedly planning a summit aimed at discussing the restart of nuclear disarmament talks and the construction of a pipeline that would stream Russian natural gas to North and South Korea.
Kim's train stopped in the Russian border city of Khasan on Saturday morning before moving on to its next destination, the official Korean Central News Agency reported from Pyongyang.
At Khasan's railway station, he was warmly greeted by senior Russian officials, including Viktor Ishayev, presidential envoy to the Far East Region of the Russian Federation, KCNA said.
The Russian officials said Kim's trip would "mark a historic occasion" in moving cooperative bilateral ties to a "fresher and higher stage," KCNA said. Kim replied he was "very pleased" to see the achievement made by the Russian people and thanked Russian officials and people for warmly welcoming him, it said.
Kim's visit to Russia - his first since 2002 - comes amid signs that Pyongyang is increasing efforts to secure aid and restart stalled six-nation disarmament negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program in return for aid.
Last month, a senior North Korean diplomat visited New York to discuss ways to resume the nuclear talks last held in December 2008. Earlier, the nuclear envoys of North and South Korea met in Indonesia for talks.
Russia and North Korea both announced Friday that Moscow will provide food assistance, including some 50,000 tons of wheat, to Pyongyang. North Korea might face another food crisis this year due to heavy rains.
"The key reasons for Kim's Russian visit are to discuss receiving food aid and improving economic cooperation between the two" countries, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
North Korea said earlier this week that Medvedev sent a letter calling for greater energy cooperation among Russia and the two Koreas, saying it would enhance regional security. That came after Russia's foreign minister said Moscow was in talks with Pyongyang and Seoul separately on putting gas pipes through the Korean peninsula. …