Russian foreign minister conveys Putin's message to Kim

PYONGYANG • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov passed a message from President Vladimir Putin to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a visit to Pyongyang yesterday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Mr Peskov refused to say what was in the message during a conference call with reporters yesterday and declined to comment on the prospects for a possible meeting between Mr Putin and Mr Kim.

Mr Lavrov extended an invitation for Mr Kim to visit Russia.

"Come to Russia, we will be very happy to see you," Mr Lavrov told the North Korean leader during their meeting, the first between a Russian official and Mr Kim as head of state. It was unclear whether Mr Kim accepted the invitation.

Mr Kim told Mr Lavrov that the situation on the Korean peninsula was shifting rapidly towards dialogue, and that he appreciated Mr Putin's opposition to United States hegemony, according to Russia's Interfax news service.

Mr Lavrov's first visit to Pyongyang since 2009 took place as preparations continue for a planned summit between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore to try to resolve the confrontation over North Korea's nuclear programme.

Russia's top diplomat yesterday called for a phased approach to denuclearisation, including easing of international sanctions on North Korea. "It is impossible in one move to ensure denuclearisation, that is why certainly there should be some stages," Mr Lavrov was quoted as saying by state-run Tass news service.

He said Moscow hoped all sides would take a measured approach to possible forthcoming talks on a nuclear settlement.

"We call on all the parties involved to fully realise their responsibility for preventing the failure of such an important but fragile process," Tass quoted Mr Lavrov as saying after talks with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho.

Mr Kim's personal meeting with Mr Lavrov was likely a move to try to secure Russia - along with China - as another powerful player that can push the US to ease sanctions and make other concessions, said analyst Anthony Rinna, a specialist in Korea-Russia relations at Sino-NK, a website that analyses the region.

In the short term, Moscow "cannot afford to be remembered as the country that had no hat in the ring leading up to June 12", he said.

From a longer-term perspective, Russia hopes to foster economic cooperation with both North and South Korea. Mr Lavrov said Moscow was "ready to make its contribution" to trilateral economic projects with Pyongyang and Seoul.

"We and our President have very positively assessed the Panmunjom Declaration, which you and the President of the Republic of Korea signed. We are ready to contribute to its implementation in every possible way, given that it mentions railway projects which should be implemented with Russia's participation in the long term," Mr Lavrov said during his meeting with Mr Kim.

Moscow is particularly interested in the construction of gas pipelines and railways connecting the two Koreas to Russia.

Mr Jeong Hyung Gon, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, said Mr Kim would be wise to delay any official visit to Russia until after his meeting with Mr Trump.

"It won't be easy for Kim Jong Un to turn down an official invitation, so I think it would be after the June 12 summit, which would help him to hold a successful summit with the US," he said.

Mr Putin invited Mr Kim to Russia in 2014, but Mr Kim reportedly cancelled it at the last minute.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2018, with the headline 'Russian foreign minister conveys Putin's message to Kim'. Print Edition | Subscribe