North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s armored train arrived Tuesday in an eastern Siberian city for a summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The North Korean leader stepped out of his train in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, a Buddhist province near Lake Baikal, Russian news agencies reported. Kim’s motorcade left town in the direction of Turka, a picturesque village on the shores of Baikal.
The Yonhap news agency said the Medvedev-Kim summit is expected to take place on Wednesday but did not elaborate.
There had been signs that preparations were being made for Kim to visit Turka. The Baikal Daily website quoted residents as saying that a local police officer had been making the rounds to take down the names and addresses of all the people in the village.
Mr. Kim is expected to meet Mr. Medvedev this week for talks that could focus on a natural gas pipeline deal. The pipeline would stream Russian natural gas through the North’s territory to the South. South Korea media said the North could earn up to $100 million every year, but negotiations haven’t reported much progress because of a standoff over North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, however, raised worries Monday that the North could abruptly shut down the gas supply if relations deteriorated with the South.
The North Korean leader’s visit is shrouded in mystery. A few people managed to take photos of Kim at his previous stop on Sunday, but heavy police cordons kept the media in Ulan-Ude away from the train station.
It is Mr. Kim’s first visit to his country’s Cold War ally in nine years.
Russian military officials, meanwhile, arrived in the North Korean capital on Monday for a five-day visit. The Russian Defence 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, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported from Pyongyang.
The itinerary for Kim’s 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.
The Red Cross said on Monday that over 29,000 people in North Korea had lost their homes from storms and flooding in the past three months.
The humanitarian aid group said in some areas half of homes have been destroyed by floods.
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.
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.”