(ATTN: CHANGES photo; RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES throughout; TRIMS)
By Song Sang-ho
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, April 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held his first summit with President Vladimir Putin in Russia's Far East city of Vladivostok on Thursday, highlighting their focus on the "situation on the Korean Peninsula" in an apparent allusion to stalled nuclear talks with the United States.
The much anticipated summit was seen as a key test of Kim's diplomatic outreach aimed at breaking a logjam in a denuclearization parley with the U.S., easing sanctions pressure and catalyzing his lackluster drive for economic development.
"The purpose of our visit to Russia this time is to exchange views on the situation of the Korean Peninsula, which is an issue of acute interest that the world is now watching," Kim said at the start of an extended summit session with Putin at Far Eastern Federal University on Russky Island in the Pacific port city.
"And to share in-depth views on strategically promoting stability in this region and jointly managing the situation and to exchange opinions on the development of the traditional relationship (with Russia) in a sound, forward-looking manner in line with demands (of the times)," he added.
Putin also said through an interpreter that he and Kim exchanged views on what it takes to develop the peninsula situation in a "better, positive" direction.
Before the meeting, the Russian president expressed his support for ongoing efforts for inter-Korean dialogue and for improved relations between the North and the U.S.
"On the occasion of (your visit) to Russia this time, I expect that the bilateral relations will develop, and that (we) can find a good solution to addressing the situation on the Korean Peninsula," he said.
"And I think that we will be able to continue this trend, this change that is positively unfolding nowadays," he added.
Flanked by top party, military and state officials, Kim arrived by train in Vladivostok on Wednesday afternoon for his first foreign trip since the collapse of his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February.
Since the no-deal summit, Kim has been trying to close ranks with his major-power supporters -- China and Russia -- while calling for flexibility in Washington's tough-line stance in stalled nuclear negotiations.
Accompanying Kim at the summit were Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui and other top Pyongyang officials.
The Russian delegation was expected to include Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Transport Minister Yevgeny Dietrich and Minister for the Development of Russia's Far East Alexander Kozlov.
The North's decades-old nuclear quandary appears to have topped the summit agenda, as both Kim and Putin noted they discussed the "peninsula situation" of keen international concern.
Moscow and Pyongyang favor a phased, incremental approach to the North's nuclear disarmament, while Washington calls for the North to take sweeping denuclearization steps before any rewards are given.
Putin could reiterate Russia's penchant for a multilateral framework to address the nuclear conundrum amid worries that Moscow could be left out of the loop with Washington and Beijing influencing Korea peace efforts, analysts said.
Aside from security issues, the leaders could discuss ways to expand economic cooperation and Moscow's humanitarian aid to Pyongyang, as well as the prospect of three-way economic projects involving the two Koreas and Russia.
However, economic cooperation is bound to face restrictions stemming from U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions.
Kim and Putin could also discuss the fate of around 10,000 North Korean workers in Russia that face repatriation at the end of this year due to the UNSC sanctions banning the issuance of new visas for such workers, a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North.
Ahead of the summit, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. is determined not to repeat past mistakes by giving the North "a bunch of money in exchange for too little."
"We're very focused on getting the right set of incentives for both sides so that we can achieve the objective," he said during an interview with CBS News on Wednesday.
"It's gonna be bumpy. It's gonna be challenging. I hope that we get several more chances to have serious conversations about how we can move this process forward."
Asked if he saw a path to a deal leading to denuclearization, Pompeo said, "I do. I absolutely do."
Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation in Seoul on Thursday afternoon, according to the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. They are expected to exchange views on the Kim-Putin summit in Vladivostok.
Patrushev is visiting here for a security consultation with Chung Eui-yong, director of Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office.
This Vladivostok summit is the first one between the leaders of the two countries in eight years, after Kim's late father and former leader, Kim Jong-il, met then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011.
Following the summit, Kim Jong-un is expected to take a tour of the city and return home Friday or Saturday.
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