North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia by train on Wednesday, a day before his much-anticipated summit with President Vladimir Putin. The visit comes as Kim's recently-feverish diplomacy with the Trump administration, aimed at ridding the North Korean regime of its nuclear weapons, remains deadlocked.
Kim, dressed in a black coat and a fedora, met Russian officials at Russia's Khasan train station near its border with the North. The official website of the Primorye governor released pictures of Kim stepping off the train and being given the traditional Russian gifts of bread and salt at the station.
Speaking to Russia's state-owned Rossiya-24, Kim said on arrival that he was hoping for a "successful and useful" visit and would like to discuss with Putin, "settlement of the situation in the Korean Peninsula" as well as bilateral ties with Russia.
Kim then sat down with local officials, as well as a Russian deputy foreign minister, before setting off again for the Pacific port city of Vladivostok for his summit with Putin, set to begin on Thursday. It is Kim's first visit to Russia, and the first by a North Korean leader since his late father, Kim Jong Il, visited in 2011.
"I have heard a lot about your country and have long dreamt of visiting it," Kim was quoted as saying. "It's been seven years since I took the helm, and I've only just managed to visit."
Kim evoked his father's "great love for Russia" and said that he intended to strengthen the ties between the two countries.
Earlier Wednesday, the North's state media confirmed Kim's departure aboard his khaki-green armored train from an undisclosed location in North Korea. Yonhap, citing an analysis of North Korean photos on Kim's departure, speculated Kim may have left from a rural area, not Pyongyang.
Kim was expected to arrive in Vladivostok around late Wednesday afternoon and attend a dinner reception hosted by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, according to South Korean media. After his summit with Putin, Kim may tour neighboring facilities or landmarks before departing for home on Friday, the reports said.
Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov told Russian media the summit would focus on North Korea's nuclear program, noting that Russia would seek to "consolidate the positive trends" stemming from President Trump's meetings with Kim.
In February, Kim's secondbecause of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions. There have since been no publicly known high-level contacts between the U.S. and North Korea, though both sides say they are still open to a third summit.
Despite the failure to make any significant progress in their last meeting, and the fact that North Korea appears to have resumed some of its nuclear work, Mr. Trump himself has said another meeting with Kim, "would be good in that we fully understand where we each stand."
Kim wants the U.S. to ease the sanctions to reciprocate some partial disarmament steps he took last year. But the U.S. maintains the sanctions will stay in place until North Korea takes more significant denuclearization steps.
Some experts say Kim could try to bolster his country's ties with Russia and China. Others say it's not clear how big of a role Russia can play in efforts to restart the nuclear negotiations. The summit could allow Putin to try to increase his influence in regional politics and the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program.
"Kim wants to show that he's cooperating with Russia too, rather than looking to only the U.S. and China. But I think it's not easy for Russia and China to provide North Korea with practical assistance that leads to the inflow of dollars," said Chon Hyun-joon, a former senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
North Korea has increasingly expressed frustration at the deadlocked negotiations. Last week, North Korea tested a new weapon and demanded U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be removed from nuclear talks.
Putin's adviser added that the Kremlin would try to help "create preconditions and a favorable atmosphere for reaching solid agreements on the problem of the Korean Peninsula."
Ushakov pointed at a Russia-China roadmap that offered a step-by-step approach to solving the nuclear standoff and called for sanctions relief and security guarantees to Pyongyang. He noted that the North's moratorium on nuclear tests and scaling down of U.S.-South Korean military drills helped reduce tensions and created conditions for further progress.