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(News Focus) Kim, Putin begin to build rapport amid uncertainties in ties with U.S.

Diplomacy 15:29 April 25, 2019

By Song Sang-ho

VLADIVOSTOK, April 25 (Yonhap) -- With warm pleasantries and an apparent affinity reminiscent of their countries' Cold War-era camaraderie, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin began to build rapport in their first encounter in the Far East city of Vladivostok on Thursday.

Kim and Putin held their much-anticipated summit at Far Eastern Federal University on Russky Island in the Pacific port city as their countries have been under economic sanctions and lingering military pressure from the United States.

"I believe (this summit) will be very salutary, that kind of meeting that will develop the two countries' relationship into a more solid, sound and forward-looking one," Kim told Putin at the start of the meeting.

This photo released by Europe's news photo agency EPA shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (L) holding talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their first summit at Far Eastern Federal University in Russia's Pacific port city of Vladivostok on April 25, 2019. (Yonhap)

Putin also voiced hope that his sit-down with Kim will help enhance bilateral relations.

"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.

In an apparent message to the U.S., Putin also voiced his support for efforts to improve ties between Washington and Pyongyang.

Their first summit since Kim took power in late 2011 was expected to center on joint efforts to chart a peaceful solution to Pyongyang's decades-old nuclear conundrum, economic cooperation and bilateral relations.

Kim was expected to rally support from Putin, as he has been trying to close ranks with his major-power supporters, including China, since his no-deal summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February.

The summit comes as Moscow is apparently eager to reassert diplomatic leverage over the peninsula amid an intensifying rivalry between the U.S. and China over regional primacy, analysts said.

Kim and Putin appear to be kindred spirits, observers noted, when the U.S. is moving to step up military deterrence by seeking to suspend a Cold War-era arms control treaty and develop a new type of nuclear arms.

"It is fair to say that they share the same difficulties (posed by the U.S.) ... I think both North Korea and Russia appear to be sending a message (of their unity) to the U.S.," said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics, at Handong Global University.

The U.S. has declared an intention to suspend the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that bans ground-based nuclear missiles with ranges from 500 kilometers to 5,500 km. Washington has long claimed that Russia has contravened the treaty despite Moscow's denial.

The Pentagon has also been seeking to develop "low-yield" submarine-launched nuclear cruise missiles, which observers said may lower the psychological threshold for the use of nuclear arms given that their use will cause much less damage than high-yield strategic bombs.

The move is in line with Washington's claim that Russia and China have made substantial improvements to their nuclear arsenals.

America's military pressure has been lodged in the North's psyche as well.

Despite the decision by Seoul and Washington to downsize their regular combined military exercises, Pyongyang has continued to condemn the allies' smaller drills, citing them as a sign of hostile intentions against it.

U.S.-led sanctions also have long been a drag on the economies of both the North and Russia.

Moscow has been under the sanctions the U.S. implemented in the wake of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, while Pyongyang has been suffering from sanctions that the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. and other countries have imposed for its nuclear and missile programs.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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