Russian President Vladimir Putin has sat down for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying the summit should help plan joint efforts to resolve a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Before embarking on a day of talks, the two leaders shook hands outside the summit venue, a university campus, then sat down in a conference room to exchange greetings in front of the television cameras.
Mr Putin said he hoped Mr Kim’s visit would, “help us better understand by what means we can reach a settlement on the Korean peninsula, what we can do together, what Russia can do to support the positive processes now underway”.
“Without question we welcome your efforts to develop dialogue between the Koreas, and to normalise North Korean-US relations,” Mr Putin said.
Mr Kim, who had arrived in Vladivostok a day earlier on board his armoured train, told Mr Putin the meeting would help strengthen and develop ties between Russia and North Korea, which share a long history of friendship.
The summit provides Pyongyang with an opportunity to seek support from a new quarter and possible relief from the sanctions hurting its economy.
For the Kremlin, the summit is a chance to show it is a global diplomatic player, despite efforts by the United States and other Western states to isolate it.
Mr Kim’s first trip to Russia comes about two months after his second summit with US President Donald Trump, which failed because of disputes over US-led sanctions, cooling hopes of a breakthrough in the decades-old nuclear row.
But with Moscow committed to upholding sanctions until North Korea dismantles its nuclear program, analysts said the summit was unlikely to produce any tangible help for Pyongyang, beyond a show of camaraderie.
Mr Putin is the sixth world leader to meet Mr Kim since he took control of the reclusive state in 2011.
There was heightened security around Vladivostok in preparation for the summit, with an unusually heavy police presence, especially at the university campus on Russky island where the talks will take place.
Russian and North Korean flags fluttered from lamp-posts around the university.
‘Great love for Russia’
Mr Putin’s last summit with a North Korean leader was in 2002 when his counterpart was Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father and predecessor.
Mr Kim evoked his father’s “great love for Russia” and said he intended to strengthen ties between the two countries.
Mr Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told Russian media the summit would focus on North Korea’s nuclear program, noting Russia would seek to “consolidate the positive trends” stemming from Mr Trump’s meetings with Mr Kim.
Pyongyang, meanwhile, slammed South Korea for conducting joint air force exercises with the United States, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
“[The exercises], far from trying to keep to preserve the valuable spark of peace, reconciliation and cooperation, have gone against the trend toward the reconciliation on the peninsular,” a statement from North Korea’s Government said.
“The South Korean authorities have to behave with discretion, mindful that their open perfidy to [North Korea] at the crucial moment of whether to preserve the atmosphere of the improvement of the north-south ties may put the overall bilateral ties at risk,” it added.
Mr Kim wants the US to ease the sanctions to reciprocate for some partial disarmament steps he took last year.
But the US maintains the sanctions will stay in place until North Korea makes more significant denuclearisation moves.
Some experts say Mr Kim could try to bolster his country’s ties with Russia and China.
Others say it is not clear how big a role Russia can play in efforts to restart the nuclear negotiations.
Still, the summit could allow Mr Putin to try to increase his influence in regional politics and the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBS News on Wednesday talks with North Korea would be “bumpy” and the country’s possession of nuclear weapons put it at risk rather than making it safe.
“There was a lot more nuance to the conversation than just, ‘Hey they had a position, we had a position; we walked away’,” Mr Pompeo said of the Trump-Kim meeting in Hanoi.
“We hope we can build on that.”