North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is expected to visit Russia this week for a summit with President Dmitry Medvedev, Japanese news media reported Tuesday, drawing attention to the much-veiled meeting.
The two former ally states are putting final touches to the summit slated for Friday in Vladivostok, Tokyo’s Mainichi Shimbun said, quoting multiple intelligence sources in Moscow.
Kyodo news service said Kim will meet Medvedev on Thursday.
The reports on Kim’s Russia trip comes amid worsening food shortages in the reclusive communist state. Kim, who rarely travels abroad, is anticipated to ask for Moscow’s support to Pyongyang’s efforts to escape its financial and diplomatic isolation, analysts say.
If reports are true, Kim would be making his first trip to North Korea’s Cold War ally since August 2002.
Relations between Moscow and Pyongyang have been weakening in recent years as the former communist power has turned its attention to other regional partners, including South Korea.
“We have no clear information to confirm the reports at the moment,” a senior South Korean diplomat told reporters on Monday.
“Vladivostok would be a convenient venue for the summit meeting,” he added on the condition of customary anonymity.
Pyongyang’s 69-year-old leader, who does not travel via air due to security concerns, is expected to cross the border aboard his special train early Friday, according to the Japanese daily.
Russia and North Korea appear to have been discussing the summit meeting since May, when a Moscow intelligence official visited Pyongyang, according to sources here.
Suffering from deepening poverty and international isolation since it conducted its second nuclear test in 2009, Pyongyang wants to restart the stalled six-nation talks on its denuclearization in exchange for economic assistance.
The multinational talks, joined by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, have been stalled since 2008, when the North left the negotiation table claiming dialogue partners had not kept their words about providing it with financial aid.
With China already backing its wishes, Russia’s support will help North Korea to rejoin dialogue at an early date despite demand by Seoul and Washington that the North apologize for the deadly attacks it made against the South last year, analysts say.
The U.S., Japan and South Korea have been firm that the North must first improve ties with Seoul to hold larger-scale talks with other regional powers. Pyongyang either denies or blames Seoul for the two attacks.
By Shin Hae-in (firstname.lastname@example.org