The Kremlin hinted at the potential for a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, telling reporters Friday that such a summit “may indeed take place.”
The Kremlin confirmed discussions with the North Koreans were ongoing shortly after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Kim personally on a visit to Pyongyang. North Korean state media reported that Kim and his officials met Lavrov “warmly” and congratulated Russia for generally opposing the interests of the United States on the global stage.
“This meeting may take place, its modalities and time will be further agreed via diplomatic channels,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked if it was possible that Putin may meet Kim, according to Russian news service TASS.
A reporter asked Peskov if the meeting would, should it occur, be held in Beijing, the only foreign capital Kim has visited as head of state. “No, not particularly, this is not discussed,” Peskov replied.
Russia has played a negligible role in the ongoing discussions between North Korea and the United States on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. Following meetings between North and South Korean officials – and two meetings between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in – President Donald Trump has entrusted his diplomatic officials to plan a meeting between himself and Kim. Trump sent a letter to Kim canceling the June 12 meeting scheduled to occur in Singapore last week, but State Department officials have insisted they are continuing with talks as if the meeting is confirmed to happen.
Lavrov landed in Pyongyang as North Korean officials visited New York and dined with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s official state news outlet, Lavrov personally handed Kim a letter from Putin. Kim reportedly “warmly welcomed the visit of Foreign Minister Lavrov and his party to the DPRK and had a friendly conversation with them.”
“Lavrov highly appreciated the DPRK [North Korea] for having successfully steered the relations between the north and south of Korea and between the DPRK and the U.S., and the situation of the Korean peninsula and the region for having entered the phase of stability,” KCNA reported. “He said that Russia fully supports the DPRK’s determination and stand on the DPRK-U.S. summit high on the agenda and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and wishes for their good successes.”
The Russian government also opposes any sanctions on the North Korean regime, Lavrov insisted, asserting that the nuclear issue cannot be resolved in full “until sanctions are removed.” Through pressure from the Trump administration, the United Nations has imposed unprecedented global sanctions on Pyongyang, a response to two nuclear weapons tests in 2017 and repeated threats to use the bombs preemptively against the U.S. mainland. The sanctions have crippled the already weak North Korean economy, reportedly affecting not just the nation’s rural poor, but the elites in Pyongyang.
KCNA also reported that Kim was interested in a “meeting between the top leaders of the DPRK and Russia this year marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.”
TASS relayed that Kim applauded Russia for its consistent position as one of America’s most aggressive rivals.
“I highly value the fact that Putin’s administration strictly opposes the US’ dominance,” Kim Jong-un reportedly told Lavrov. “You strictly oppose, and we are always ready to conduct negotiations and a profound exchange of opinions with the Russian side on this issue.”
Prior to his meeting with Kim, Lavrov met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho. Reports suggested that Lavrov invited Kim to Moscow for a meeting with Putin during these exchanges, though Peskov did not provide any information regarding location should such a summit occur.
“We welcome contacts between North and South Korea, as well as between North Korea and the United States,” Lavrov said after his meeting with Ri.
In addition to diplomacy with Russia and China, Kim has sent his top diplomats to Singapore and New York to meet with their American counterparts. Secretary Pompeo met with Kim Yong-chol, a U.S.-sanctioned terrorist widely considered one of Kim’s most trusted confidantes, on Wednesday. Kim Yong-chol is expected to meet President Trump in Washington on Friday, carrying a letter from Kim Jong-un.