IA Port Amur, www.portamur.ru, Associated Press
MOSCOW — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's armored train reportedly arrived Tuesday in an eastern Siberian city for a summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as Russian military officers flew to Pyongyang for military talks.
Kim is expected to meet Medvedev this week near the Russian city of Ulan-Ude for talks that could focus on a natural gas pipeline deal. It is Kim's first visit to his country's Cold War ally in nine years. North Korea is also pushing to restart six-nation nuclear disarmament talks in exchange for aid, after more than a year of tension during which it shelled a South Korean border island and allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship.
Kim arrived Tuesday morning in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, a Buddhist province near Lake Baikal, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported; he then got into a car with people waiting at the station and went toward the city. Yonhap said the Medvedev-Kim summit is expected to take place Wednesday but did not elaborate.
Russian military officials, meanwhile, arrived in the North Korean capital on Monday for a five-day visit, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported from Pyongyang. The Russian Defense Ministry said the talks will focus on the renewal of military cooperation between the countries, possible joint exercises "of a humanitarian nature" and an exchange of friendly visits by Russian and North Korean ships.
Military expert Alexander Golts said North Korea's goal could be to assuage fears of instability as Russia considers building a natural gas pipeline through North Korea. The pipeline is expected to be one of the main topics of Kim and Medvedev's talks.
Golts said it was highly unlikely Russia would renew arms sales to North Korea, which would not be in its interests as a participant in the six-nation nuclear talks.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Russia — as "a partner in the six-party talks" — shares the view we all have: "In order to get back to the talks, we need an improvement in North-South relations, and we need the (North) to show concrete steps toward denuclearization."
She said that "one would hope and expect that if we have the leader in Russia, that these points are being made to him."
Kim's train crossed into Russia on Saturday morning and passed through Khabarovsk before heading west along a railway running roughly parallel with Russia's borders with China and Mongolia. The itinerary for his visit, expected to last about a week, has been largely kept secret because of what appears to be high security concern from North Korea.
But the Korea Herald newspaper stated bluntly a strain of thinking in Seoul in an editorial Tuesday: "It does not take genius to guess why North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is visiting Russia. Kim desperately needs economic aid."
The North, which has long experienced chronic food shortages, has been hit with heavy flooding in recent weeks.
Kim was seen during a stop Sunday at the small Bureya station in Amur province. Flags of the two countries fluttered at the railway station, while a military band played welcoming music and Russian women in national dress offered Kim traditional gifts of bread and salt.
Kim then was taken in his armored Mercedes for a tour of a hydroelectric power plant and its 139-meter (456-foot) dam on the Bureya River. He was briefed on the plant's history and electricity production capacity and praised the enormous building, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported from Pyongyang.
"Inexhaustible is the strength of the Russian people," Kim wrote in the visitor's book, KCNA said.
Russia has proposed transmitting surplus electricity produced by the Amur plant to both North and South Korea, South Korean media have reported.
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