SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is planning an unprecedented flurry of summits with world leaders, as he steps up his push to ease sanctions four months after a landmark meeting with US President Donald Trump.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Parliament yesterday that Mr Kim would likely visit Russia and South Korea "soon", and he also expected Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Pyongyang in the near future.
Mr Moon, who made the remarks while outlining next year's budget, said the North Korean leader could also possibly hold a separate meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The agenda shows how the once-reclusive North Korean leader's diplomatic isolation has fallen away since Mr Trump granted him the first-ever summit between sitting leaders of the two countries in June.
Mr Kim has used that legitimacy to lobby for relief from international sanctions, while resisting US calls to give up his nuclear weapons programme.
Mr Moon has been a key proponent of Mr Kim's outreach effort, pressing ahead with plans to deepen cooperation between the two Koreas and last month inviting Pope Francis to visit Pyongyang.
Yesterday, the heavily fortified border separating North and South Korea saw some of the biggest physical changes yet resulting from the historic rapprochement between the two leaders.
Mr Kim and Mr Moon's agreement in September to cease all "hostile activities" on the border, including live-fire drills and field training, took effect yesterday.
The deal "established a crucial turning point to reduce military tensions, to pave the way for trust-building and to end threats of real war", South Korea's national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said at a briefing.
South Korea moved its exercises away from the military demarcation line, which serves as a land border, and covered or shut down the artillery near their sea boundary. North Korea also recently shut down some artillery installations near the western sea border.
As Mr Kim boosts ties with South Korea - as well as China and Russia - he is stepping up complaints about the sanctions crimping plans to develop his impoverished economy.
He levelled some of his most blunt criticism yet of the restrictions while visiting a construction site in the north-eastern coastal city of Wonsan, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
"The hostile forces are foolishly keen on vicious sanctions to stand in our way towards promotion of people's well-being and development and to lead us to change and submission," KCNA cited Mr Kim as saying, without specifying who he was referring to.
"They will be made to clearly see over time how our country has built its own strength hundreds of times defying hardship."
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held out the prospect of a second Trump-Kim summit, which has been delayed as the two sides struggle to advance a deal signed during their first meeting.
Mr Pompeo said during an appearance on Fox News' Laura Ingraham Show on Wednesday that the two leaders would probably meet early next year, when "we can make a substantial breakthrough in taking down the nuclear threat from North Korea".
Mr Pompeo said he would speak to his "North Korean counterpart" next week to discuss progress, even though working-level negotiations involving the special envoy he appointed in August, Mr Stephen Biegun, still have not started.