Lavrov invites Kim Jong Un to Russia, says Moscow ready to work with two Koreas on railway projects

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is paying a visit to North Korea for the first time since 2009.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is paying a visit to North Korea for the first time since 2009.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Thursday (May 31), the Russian foreign ministry said, and invited him to visit Russia.

Lavrov visited the secretive state ahead of a possible landmark summit between US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader in June.

“Come to Russia, we’ll be very happy to see you,” Lavrov told Kim in remarks released by the Russian foreign ministry.

It remains unclear whether Kim has accepted the invitation. Should he decide to go, it will represent the first visit by a North Korean leader to Russia since his father Kim Jong Il visited Russia in August 2011.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin previously invited Kim Jong Un to Russia in 2014 – a visit the young North Korean leader reportedly cancelled at the last minute, reported NK News.

Lavrov held talks on Thursday with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho before meeting Kim. It is Lavrov's third visit to North Korea. He last visited the country in 2009.

"We are interested in peace, stability and prosperity on the Korean peninsula and in North-east Asia as a whole," Lavrov said at the beginning of the talks with Kim.

Putin conveyed warm greetings to Kim Jong Un and expressed support for the initiatives of the North Korean leader on the Korean peninsula, Lavrov added, reported Russian state-owned news outlet Sputnik.

"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," Lavrov said at a meeting with Kim.

Russia is particularly interested in projects involving the construction of gas pipelines and railways connecting the two Koreas to Russia, reported NK News.

Lavrov's visit to Pyongyang, which was announced on Wednesday, comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity to organise a landmark summit between Donald Trump and Kim, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also meeting Kim's right-hand man Kim Yong Chol in New York late Wednesday.

Lavrov was received by Vice Foreign Minister Sin Hong Chol at the airport and later met Kim. Putin once called Kim a "shrewd and mature" politician.

“Lavrov was greeted by the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of DPRK Kim Jong Un during his visit to Pyongyang,” the Russian foreign ministry said on Twitter in English, releasing pictures of the two men shaking hands.

“Sergey Lavrov, foreign minister of the Russian Federation, arrived here on Thursday at the invitation of Ri Yong Ho, foreign minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)”, KCNA news agency said in a brief dispatch.  The two foreign ministers held rare talks in Moscow last month. 

The Korean Peninsula’s nuclear issue cannot be fully solved unless sanctions against Pyongyang are lifted, Lavrov said after talks with Ri on Thursday.

"Touching on sanctions, this is absolutely clear that starting this discussion about solving the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear problem, we believe that it cannot be full until sanctions are removed," Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Russian state agency Tass.

"But how to move forward to this, that’s about the art of negotiators. But this cannot be done in one move."

It is impossible in one move to ensure denuclearization, that’s why certainly there should be some stages and there should be the oncoming traffic at each of these stages," Lavrov stressed.

He called for a "delicate" approach to prevent the current process from falling apart.

"We call on all the parties involved to fully realize their responsibility for preventing the failure of such an important but fragile process," TASS quoted Lavrov as saying after his talks with Ri.

Lavrov spoke to his US counterpart Pompeo by telephone for the first time on Wednesday ahead of the Secretary of State's dinner meeting with Kim Yong Chol.

Washington is pressing North Korea to quickly give up all its nuclear weapons in a verifiable way in return for lifting sanctions and economic relief.

But analysts say North Korea will be unwilling to cede its nuclear deterrent unless it is given security guarantees that the US will not try to topple the regime.