VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AP) – Smiling and upbeat, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stepped off his khaki-green armored train in far-eastern Russia on Wednesday for a much-anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a meeting that comes amid deadlocked diplomacy over Kim’s nuclear program.
Kim, dressed in a black coat and a fedora, first met with Russian officials at Russia’s Khasan train station near its border with North Korea, before traveling on to Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok for a summit Thursday with Putin.
Speaking to Russia’s state-owned Rossiya-24, Kim said he is hoping for a “successful and useful” visit and would like to discuss with Putin the “settlement of the situation in the Korean Peninsula” as well as bilateral ties with Russia.
It was his first visit to Russia as North Korean leader; his late father, Kim Jong Il, visited Russia in 2011.
“I have heard a lot about your country and have long dreamt of visiting it,” Kim was quoted as saying when he sat down with local officials at his first stop. “It’s been seven years since I took the helm, and I’ve only just managed to visit.”
The North Korean leader evoked his father’s “great love for Russia” and said that he intends to strengthen the ties between the two countries.
Kim arrived in Vladivostok aboard his armored train early Wednesday evening and was greeted by a military orchestra before he got into his personal limousine, which travels with him, and drove away. He is expected to 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. Primorye governor Oleg Kozhemyako told Rossiya-24 that Kim would be meeting “ordinary people” in Russia who all favor closer ties with the North.
Kim would also be offered traditional Russian dishes such as borscht, a beet soup; pelmeni, meat dumplings; and caviar – although he brought his own cooks with him, Kozhemyako added.
Russian news agencies reported later that Kim’s motorcade was spotted on Russky Island, off the southern tip of Vladivostok, the summit venue.
Separately in Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu hosted his North Korean counterpart to discuss “international security,” the Russian military said Wednesday.
Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov told Russian media the Putin-Kim summit will focus on North Korea’s nuclear program, noting that Russia will seek to “consolidate the positive trends” stemming from President Donald Trump’s meetings with Kim.
In February, Kim’s second summit with Trump in Hanoi ended without any agreement because of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions. There have since been no publicly known high-level contacts between the U.S. and North Korea, although both sides say they are still open to a third summit.
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. Still, 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 that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be removed from the 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 for Pyongyang. He noted that the North’s moratorium on nuclear tests and the scaling down of U.S.-South Korean military drills have helped reduce tensions and created conditions for further progress.
Ushakov said the summit’s agenda will also include bilateral cooperation. Russia’s trade with North Korea is minuscule at just $34 million last year, mostly because of the international sanctions against Pyongyang.
Russia would like to gain broader access to North Korea’s mineral resources, including rare metals. Pyongyang, for its part, covets Russia’s electricity supplies and investment to modernize its dilapidated Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.
Vladivostok, a city of more than half a million on the Sea of Japan, faced gridlock on its roads Wednesday as traffic was blocked in the city center due to Kim’s visit.
Local media reported that some platforms at Vladivostok’s main train station would be closed for several days, and that buses were rerouted from the train station Wednesday.
Maritime authorities said the waters around Russky Island would be temporarily closed to all maritime traffic. The island has a university with a conference hall and is seen as a likely summit venue.
This story corrects the Primorye governor’s last name to Kozhemyako.
Kim and Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea; Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.