North Korean leader visiting Russia for summit

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

MOSCOW -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's armored train arrived Tuesday in an eastern Siberian city for a summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The North Korean leader stepped out of his train in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, a Buddhist province near Lake Baikal, Russian news agencies reported. Kim's motorcade left town in the direction of Turka, a picturesque village on the shores of Baikal, the Russian ITAR-Tass news agencies reported.

The Yonhap news agency said the Medvedev-Kim summit is expected to take place today but did not elaborate.

There were signs that preparations were being made for Kim to visit Turka. The Baikal Daily website quoted residents as saying that a local police officer had been making the rounds to take down the names and addresses of all the people in the village.

Raising speculations

Kim is expected to meet Medvedev this week near the Russian city of Ulan-Ude for talks that could focus on a natural gas pipeline deal. The pipeline would stream Russian natural gas through the North's territory to the South. South Korea media said the North could earn up to $100 million every year, but negotiations haven't reported much progress because of the nuclear dispute.

The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, however, raised worries Monday that the North could abruptly shut down the gas supply depending on relations with the South.

The North Korean leader's visit is shrouded in mystery. A few people managed to take photos of Kim at his previous stop Sunday, but heavy police cordons kept the press in Ulan-Ude off the train station.

It is Kim's first visit to his country's Cold War ally in nine years. North Korea is also pushing to restart six-nation nuclear disarmament talks in exchange for aid, after more than a year of tension during which it shelled a South Korean border island and allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship.

Russian military officials, meanwhile, arrived in the North Korean capital on Monday for a five-day visit. The Russian Defense Ministry said the talks will focus on the renewal of military cooperation between the countries, possible joint exercises "of a humanitarian nature" and an exchange of friendly visits by Russian and North Korean ships, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported from Pyongyang.

Experts say North Korea could be seeking to assuage fears of instability as Russia considers building a natural gas pipeline through North Korea.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Russia -- as "a partner in the six-party talks" -- shares the view we all have: "In order to get back to the talks, we need an improvement in North-South relations, and we need the (North) to show concrete steps toward denuclearization."

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