North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin gifted each other traditional swords from their respective countries after a three-hour conversation that both leaders described as “candid” and “thorough” on Thursday.
The two met for the first time in Vladivostok, a far-eastern Russian city accessible to Kim via train, keeping him from having to travel via airplane. While Putin hosted Kim’s father Kim Jong-il there in the past, this was the younger Kim’s first visit to Russia. He told media he hoped it would not be his last.
The summit occurred on the heels of Kim’s second in-person meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in February, which proved catastrophic diplomatically for Kim. Trump walked out of the summit, taking place in Vietnam, a day early, telling reporters Kim’s intransigent demand for sanctions relief while doing nothing to end his illegal nuclear weapons program made it impossible for the two to negotiate.
His meeting with Putin Thursday went much more favorably for Kim.
The North Korean dictator presented Putin with a traditional Korean sword that represented “the soul – mine and that of our people, who support you,” Kim told Putin. Russian propaganda network RT reported that Putin also gave Kim a sword, this time a “Russian curved saber,” and a coin, traditionally given with swords for good luck.
The gift exchange occurred after a three-hour conversation that lasted twice as long as it was scheduled to, according to RT.
The talks, the two leaders told reporters later, centered around two major issues: the bilateral ties between Moscow and Pyongyang and resolving the ongoing crisis Kim’s illegal nuclear weapons program has created in the manner most beneficial to Kim.
“I came to Russia to exchange opinions on the situation on the Korean Peninsula, which is one of the major problems on the current international agenda, as well as discuss ways to peacefully settle this issue and exchange opinions on the development of our bilateral relations in accordance with the demands of the new century,” Kim said in front of reporters after the meeting. “We just exchanged our positions with you, Mr President, in a face-to-face conversation on issues of mutual interest, on all major problems. I thank you for the splendid time and I hope that our negotiations will continue in the same way, as fruitful and constructive.”
Kim thanked his “dear Russian friends” generally and applauded Russia for being a “friendly great neighbor” to his repressive communist regime.
Giving a toast at the state dinner that followed the talks, Kim called the discussion “candid” and “meaningful” and promised to continue to build on their relationship.
“It is my and the republic government’s firm, unwavering stance and strategic policy line to relentlessly strengthen and develop the strategic, traditional, friendly relationship between North Korea and Russia in line with the demands of the new century,” he said.
Putin, in turn, toasted “to the further strengthening of friendship and cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to the wellbeing of the peoples of our countries, and to the health of comrade Chairman Kim Jong Un and all those present here today.”
International reports noted that, during part of the talks, Kim appeared to need that toast to his health. Kim, an avid smoker, appeared on camera breathing heavily for much of the meeting, prompting some to question the state of his health.
Prior to the dinner – which reportedly featured traditional Russian foods like borscht and caviar – Putin expressed satisfaction with how his talks with Kim went.
“We talked about the history of our insterstate relations, the current situation and the prospects for the development of our bilateral ties,” he said. “We discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula and shared our positions on the measures to be taken for the situation to have good prospects for improvement.”
Specifically, Putin insisted that any attempts to get Kim to abide by international law required “security guarantees” that his communist regime would stay in power. He urged multilateral talks on North Korea’s criminal weapons program, rather than pressure and sanctions from the rest of the world.
“I’m not sure these talks need to be resumed right now but I am confident that if we reach a stage where we will need to develop some kind of guarantees for one of the parties, primarily, security guarantees for North Korea, international guarantees will be necessary,” Russian news agency TASS quoted Putin as saying:
“What is the denuclearization? To a certain extent, it is North Korea’s disarmament,” Putin emphasized. He noted that both Moscow and Pyongyang believe that North Korea “needs guarantees of its security, preserving its sovereignty.” “What kind of guarantees can these be except the international legal ones?” the Russian leader said, adding that it is too early to say whether such guarantees will be substantial, but “it is essential to take first steps towards building up confidence.”
Putin said there were “no secrets” in the talks and that he would brief Trump and Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping on what he discussed with Kim.
“All of us are satisfied with the results of the talks, both my colleagues and I,” he concluded. “Chairman Kim Jong-un is a fairly open person who holds a free discussion on all issues, which were on the agenda.”