MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged from his first summit with Kim Jong Un on Thursday saying that North Korea needs international security guarantees, not just U.S. pledges, to consider giving up its nuclear arsenal.
It also reinforced North Korea’s attempt to link security and sanctions relief as twin demands in negotiations over its nuclear program.
Meeting in the city of Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East, two months after Kim’s failed talks with Trump, Putin raised the option of reviving international talks with North Korea if Kim was not satisfied with U.S. positions on security issues.
“They [North Koreans] only need guarantees about their security. That’s it. All of us together need to think about this,” Putin told reporters after the talks with Kim.
Six-party talks with North Korea — aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program — fell apart a decade ago when Pyongyang pulled out; the negotiations included Russia, China, South Korea, the United States and Japan. In the following years, North Korea made significant advances in its nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea has pushed for a declaration to formally end the Korean War, which ended in an armistice in 1953, without a peace treaty. Kim also has denounced past U.S.-South Korea military exercises as a provocation.
Trump called off some war games and dangled the possibility of an end-of-war declaration in the future, but direct U.S. pledges of support for the Kim regime’s hold on power are highly improbable, experts say.
“Nobody is in a position to give them the security guarantees they would like to have,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “They want a guarantee not only against an outside attack but also against possible internal discontent. . . . On balance, it’s a non-starter.”
Putin said he would press the security issue on Kim’s behalf with Beijing and Washington.
“We do share interests with the United States. We stand for full denuclearization,” Putin told reporters after his meeting with Kim, which lasted longer than expected.
For the Kremlin, eager to play a part in high-stakes nuclear talks, the flashy summit shows Russia’s growing political role around the globe.
It would be a mistake, Putin said, not to involve regional players such as Russia and China, and instead rely on the United States and South Korea to try to resolve the situation on the Korean Peninsula. “It’s unlikely that any agreements between two countries will be enough,” he said.
For Kim, meeting a world leader such as Putin presented an opportunity to save face after the breakdown in his second round of talks with Trump in Hanoi.
At a banquet following the talks, Kim raised a glass of wine to Putin, saying, “I had a frank and substantive exchange of opinions with Mr. Putin on the development of Russian-Korean relations and the provision of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.”
Dressed in his usual Mao-collared black outfit, Kim sat down for an intimate dinner with a handful of people, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at Far Eastern Federal University, whose main halls were decorated with flags of both countries.
According to Russian state media, the one-on-one meeting between Putin and Kim lasted almost two hours, much longer than the 50 minutes allotted.
During the meeting, Kim said that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is at a standstill and may return to its original state, blaming the United States for taking a “unilateral attitude in bad faith” in Hanoi, the North’s state news agency reported. He said peace and security will depend entirely on the U.S. attitude in the future, adding that North Korea “will gird itself for every possible situation.”
But while North Korea insists the United States needs to change its stance, Washington takes the opposite view, arguing that the ball is in Kim’s court to return to the negotiating table with a more realistic negotiating stance.
After their meal, the leaders attended a Russian dance and choir concert involving North Korean performers.
Putin was scheduled to leave Vladivostok soon after his talks with Kim for a summit in Beijing.
Kim, who arrived in style by armored train on Wednesday morning, will stay on in Russia to tour Vladivostok, a port city some 435 miles from Pyongyang on the Pacific Coast. He plans to visit the city’s aquarium and enjoy a culinary feast of traditional Russian fare, including caviar.
Wearing a black trilby hat and peacoat, Kim expressed joy at finally being on Russian soil, a land visited by his father and grandfather, but one he had not seen until this trip.
North Korean state media celebrated Kim’s visit; the front page of the Rodong Sinmun, the official paper of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, splashed 12 photographs of Kim’s arrival and welcome across its front page.
Washington will be closely watching from the sidelines for any potential cracks in economic sanctions and other pressures on Kim’s regime. Wary of a possible Russian turnaround, the U.S. State Department sent its envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, to Moscow last week to push for maintaining pressure to realize the country’s full denuclearization.
In another sign of Pyongyang’s frustration with Washington, North Korea issued a strongly worded condemnation Thursday of ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills, warning that its military could respond.
The country’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called the exercises an “act of perfidy” on behalf of South Korean authorities, claiming in a statement that the drills violate agreements reached between the leaders of North and South Korea last year. The United States says military exercises have been scaled back, but North Korea appears to want the joint exercises canceled altogether.
North Korea has repeatedly made clear that it vehemently objects to joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises. It is less clear whether Pyongyang would demand the withdrawal of all U.S. forces in South Korea as a condition for denuclearization, something Washington and Seoul maintain is not on the table.
Last year, North Korea asked for a statement declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War. It also has objected in the past to the presence of American nuclear-armed “strategic assets” in the region, such as bombers or submarines, although it is difficult to imagine a U.S. president being able to credibly promise to keep such military assets away from the Korean Peninsula.
In the days leading up to Thursday’s meeting, some Russian lawmakers suggested that sanctions on North Korea should be lifted.
Like China’s government, Russia has been cautious toward North Korea, with which it shares a border, and does not want to see a regime change that could usher in U.S. influence. But it is also eager to build ties with North Korea, a former client of the Soviet Union.
In Kim’s last sit-down with Trump in Hanoi, the U.S. president asked him to give up North Korea’s entire nuclear arsenal in exchange for help creating an economically “bright future.” Kim refused, and later a senior North Korean official denounced Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying Pyongyang no longer wants to work with him.
Denyer reported from Seoul.