Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un discussed a range of topics including denuclearization and economic cooperation during their summit in Vladivostok Thursday, but stressed the DPRK remains focused on security guarantees.
Speaking to reporters during a post-summit press conference, Putin repeatedly suggested the main obstacle to progress in talks with the U.S. remains the North’s continued concerns over its security.
Kim did not join Putin for the press conference, however, as the two leaders parted ways just before 1900 local time following a dinner banquet.
“First and foremost, he wants to ensure his national interest and ensure his country’s security, but only if the partners of North Korea – primarily the United States – are ready to engage in constructive dialogue,” Putin said to reporters, according to a translation provided on site.
“There’s no other way. You have to have a dialogue, I think there is no other way,” he added, cautioning that Kim Jong Un would ultimately have to speak for himself on the matter.
Summarizing Thursday’s agenda, Putin said topics discussed included “the issue of sanctions, the United Nations, their relations with the United States, and of course the primary issue – denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
But Putin said it may not be appropriate to suggest an early resumption of the well-established but long-halted multilateral format for denuclearization negotiations.
“I don’t know if we should resume six-party talks right now, but if we get to the point where we will have to come up with guarantees for [North Korea], we will certainly need international guarantees,” he told reporters.
The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Thursday expressed skepticism when asked about the utility of the long-stalled six-party talks.
“I have the understanding that the current top-down approach is indispensable for the peace process of the Korean peninsula,” an unnamed MOFA official told a group of reporters in a statement carried by Yonhap News Agency.
Speaking at the news conference, Putin also said he did not think it would be “enough to have bilateral agreements with some countries” – again suggesting Kim would ultimately make such decisions.
“But if this is not enough – and I tend to think that this is not going to be enough – even if we get to this point … the format of the six-party talks could be quite useful, to offer international safety guarantees to North Korea.”
Putin said, however, that it was “too early to talk about” such guarantees, saying there needs to be “some confidence-building measures first.”
Part of such measures would include moving forward with various long-stalled joint economic projects such as building rail lines and an oil pipeline across both Koreas and into Russia.
“We want to connect the railway to the Trans-Siberian line. Building a pipeline, we can talk about oil and gas, we can build a new power grid. All of this can be done,” Putin said, emphasizing South Korea would have much to gain from such projects as well.
But he also suggested the U.S. is to blame for holdups in this regard, and said that the projects could help improve the situation.
“If at a certain point we implement such projects, this would help build trust, something we really need when addressing these crucial issues.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has committed to enhance trilateral economic cooperation with Russia and the North in the field of railway, energy, and electricity.
Another economic aspect Putin confirmed was discussed in the meetings was the issue of North Korean laborers working in Russian territory.
“Yes we did talk about this situation, and there are different options available,” Putin said.
But he may have signaled a new strategy with regards to pushing for easing sanctions on the issue at the United Nations, adding that some options include “humanitarian issues – there are issues related to the rights of those people.”
“Those Korean laborers work well in Russia, they’re diligent, law-abiding people,” he concluded on the matter.
Kim and Putin met for the first time at the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) in Vladivostok at 14:05 local time, where they gave opening statements to the press before beginning one-on-one talks at 14:15.
Those talks lasted until just after 16:00 when the two leaders moved to commence expanded talks.
TASS later reported the talks in total lasted around three-and-a-half hours, before Kim, Putin, and an expanded list of officials moved to the banquet.
During initial remarks in front of the press, Putin said the two “had a rather detailed one-on-one meeting,” according to an English translation provided to press on site.
“We talked about the history of our relations between our two countries, and we talked about our current situation, as well as prospects for the future development of our ties.”
“Of course we also talked about the situation on the Korean peninsula,” Putin said, adding the two “also exchanged our views on what needs to be done to have a good chance of improving the situation.”
At the enlarged meeting, the DPRK leader also said he and Putin “shared opinions on matters of mutual interest and acute issues for a long time, for more than one hour,” expressing his gratitude toward the Russian President for providing such an “excellent time.”
He added the purpose of the summit was to “exchange opinions on the situation of the Korean peninsula and the region, in which the world has an interest and which has become a pressing matter.”
Kim also expected to “jointly manage the situation” in order to “further advance” relations.
Putin was joined in the expanded bilateral talks by ten other officials including foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, Far East Development Minister Alexander Kozlov, and ambassador to the DPRK Alexander Matsegora.
The presence of other officials suggested an economic angle to the talks as well, including Russian Railways CEO Oleg Belozerov, Minister of Transport Yevgeny Dietrich, and Deputy Minister of Energy Anatoly Yanovsky.
Kim, in turn, was only joined by two other officials: foreign minister Ri Yong Ho and first vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui.
Following one-on-one and expanded talks, Putin hosted Kim for a dinner banquet, where the two gave speeches, watched artistic performances together, and exchanged gifts.
Speaking at the banquet, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he had a discussion with Russian President Putin during the day’s meetings over peace and security on the peninsula and surrounding areas.
“I and President Putin had candid and meaningful conversations over the development of friendly relations between the DPRK and Russia, matters for establishing peace and ensuring the security of the Korean Peninsula and the region, and international issues of mutual interests,” Kim said.
“My and the DPRK government’s unwavering stance and strategic policy are to constantly strengthen and develop strategic and traditional DPRK-Russia friendly relations to a new level, living up to the demand of the new era,” the North Korean leader said at the banquet.
Following the summit’s finale, Kim Jong Un departed the building just before 1900 local time, concluding the first Putin-Kim meeting Thursday evening.
The Russian president was expected to depart for Beijing to attend the Belt and Road Forum at the conclusion of his press conference.
Kim Jong Un, meanwhile, is expected to stay in Vladivostok until at least Friday, where he may inspect various sites such as the Primorye Oceanarium and Russia’s Pacific Fleet headquarters.
Featured image: The Kremlin
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