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Kim Jong-il’s Russia visit ‘imminent’

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is likely to embark on a Russian visit as early as Saturday, South Korea’s intelligence officials said Friday.

“Kim Jong-il’s visit to Russia appears imminent,” an official at the National Intelligence Agency told a parliamentary intelligence committee, according to members of the committee.

Another intelligence source said Kim was likely to start the visit Saturday. He is likely to visit Russia’s Far East city of Vladivostok, the source said.

North Korea and Russia are former Cold War allies. Kim last visited Russia in 2002, when he met current prime minister and then president Vladimir Putin.

Russia is a member of the six-nation talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear programs which came to a halt in April 2009 when North Korea walked out of negotiations to protest the United Nations’ condemnation of its ballistic missile tests.

Kim was said to have planned a Russian visit in June, but postponed it for unknown reasons.

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed a standing invitation for Kim to visit Russia.

Kim, who is said to be suffering from poor health and rarely travels overseas, made three visits to China over the past year. The latest visit was in May, in which he met Chinese President Hu Jintao.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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