By Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL/MOSCOW (Reuters) -North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia by private train to the strains of a military band on Tuesday for talks with President Vladimir Putin – amid warnings from Washington they should not trade weapons.
Kim left Pyongyang for Russia on Sunday on board his train, which sports a signature olive green paint scheme, the North’s state media reported on Tuesday, accompanied by top arms industry and military officials.
Video footage released by Russian state TV showed Kim dressed in a suit and smiling as he stepped off his train onto a red carpet at a station in the Russian far east to be greeted by a welcome delegation. A military band arrayed on the platform at the railway station struck up soon afterwards.
A Russian source with knowledge of the trip had told Reuters earlier that Kim had arrived on Tuesday morning, leaving his train to meet Russian officials in Khasan, the main rail gateway to Russia’s Far East, before continuing on.
Footage released by Oleg Kozhemyako, governor of Russia’s far eastern Primorsky region, showed Kim, sat in a big white chair, talking with a delegation led by Alexander Kozlov, Russia’s minister for natural resources.
Kozhemyako said the Russian delegation had discussed the potential launch this year of joint tourism and agricultural projects and hoped to deepen economic ties with Pyongyang.
Kim does not travel abroad frequently, making just seven trips away from his country and twice stepping across the inter-Korean border in his 12 years in power. Four of those trips were to the North’s main political ally, China.
“It will be a fully fledged visit,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “There will be negotiations between two delegations, and after that, if necessary, the leaders will continue their communication in a one-on-one format.”
Discussions could cover humanitarian aid to North Korea and the U.N. Security Council resolutions imposed against Pyongyang, Russian officials said.
U.S. officials, who first said the visit was imminent, said arms talks between Russia and North Korea were actively advancing and that Kim and Putin were likely to discuss providing Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine.
There has been no confirmation of the site of the summit, but Kim’s train passed the junction for Russia’s Pacific port of Vladivostok, where Putin was attending a conference, and headed northwards, Japan’s Kyodo news and South Korean media reported, saying he might meet Putin at the Vostochny cosmodrome.
Speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Putin said he was planning to go to the Vostochny cosmodrome, more than 1,500 km (930 miles) to the north, but did not say if he planned to meet Kim there.
He said he had his own programme for visiting the launch station, adding: “When I get there, you will know.”
CLOSER RUSSIA-NORTH KOREA COOPERATION
Washington and its allies have expressed concern at recent signs of closer military cooperation between Russia and the nuclear-armed North. It will be Kim’s second summit with Putin, whom he met in 2019 on his last trip abroad.
Pyongyang and Moscow have denied that North Korea could supply arms to Russia, which has expended vast stocks in more than 18 months of war.
Peskov said Russia’s national interests would dictate its policies.
“While implementing our relations with our neighbours, including North Korea, the interests of our two countries are important to us, and not warnings from Washington,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian media.
The make-up of Kim’s delegation, including top defence industry and military officials with the notable presence of Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong, suggested an agenda heavy on defence industry cooperation, analysts said.
Kim could offer artillery rounds from North Korea’s large stockpile, which could replenish Russia’s capabilities in the short term, but questions about the ammunition’s quality may limit the overall impact, military analysts said.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office said many countries were watching with concern the summit between “North Korea which has been sanctioned by the United Nations, and Russia, which is a permanent member of the Security Council”.
“As the president has said, we hope Russia will act responsibly as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council,” a presidential official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Monday, Washington urged Pyongyang North to abide by its promise not to sell arms to Russia that could be used in the Ukraine war, which it said would violate Security Council resolutions.
North Korea is one of the few countries to have openly supported Russia over the Ukraine conflict, and Putin pledged last week to “expand bilateral ties in all respects in a planned way by pooling efforts”.
In a striking display, Kim gave a personal tour of an arms exhibition to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu when he visited Pyongyang in July, and Shoigu saluted when banned ballistic missiles rolled by at a military parade.
Both Russia and China voted for Security Council resolutions as late as 2017 punishing Pyongyang for ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests.
(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim, Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul, Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Steve Holland and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Reuters staff in Vladivostok; Writing by Jack Kim/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Alex Richardson)