NKorea's Kim to meet Russia’s Putin to discuss arms sales, NYT reports
PHOTO CAPTION: Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, April 25, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS//File Photo
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Tuesday it had "nothing to say" about claims by U.S. officials that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un planned to travel to Russia this month to meet President Vladimir Putin and discuss supplying Moscow with weapons for Ukraine.
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on Monday that arms negotiations between Russia and the North Korea are actively advancing.
"We have information that Kim Jong Un expects these discussions to continue, to include leader-level diplomatic engagement in Russia," she said in a statement.
Her comments came after the New York Times cited unnamed U.S. and allied officials who said Kim plans to travel to Russia as soon as next week to meet Putin.
Asked if he could confirm the talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "No, I can't. There's nothing to say."
As Russia's isolation over its war in Ukraine has grown, analysts say it has seen increasing value in North Korea. For North Korea's part, relations with Russia have not always been as warm as they were during at the height of the Soviet Union, but now the country is reaping clear benefits from Moscow's need for friends.
Moscow and Pyongyang have denied previous U.S. allegations that North Korea had provided Russia with arms, but the two countries are promising to boost defence cooperation.
Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who visited Pyongyang in July to attend weapons displays that included North Korea's banned ballistic missiles, said on Monday the two countries are discussing the possibility of joint military exercises.
"Just as you can tell a person by their friends, you can tell a country by the company it keeps," said Keir Giles, Senior Consulting Fellow with Chatham House's Russia & Eurasia Programme. "In Russia's case, that company now consists largely of fellow rogue states."
The trip would be Kim's first visit abroad in more than four years and the first since the coronavirus pandemic.
While he made more trips abroad than his father as leader, Kim's travel is often shrouded in secrecy and heavy security. Unlike his father who was said to be averse to flying, Kim has flown his personal Russian-made jet for some of his trips but U.S. officials told the Times that he may take an armoured train across the land border North Korea shares with Russia.
Kim is likely to want to emphasize a sense of Russian backing, and may seek deals on arms sales, aid, and sending labourers to Russia, said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Kookmin University.
The United States recently imposed sanctions on three entities it accused of being tied to arms deals between North Korea and Russia.
North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006 and had been testing various missiles over recent years.
Russia has joined China in opposing new sanctions on North Korea, blocking a U.S.-led push and publicly splitting the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) for the first time since it started punishing Pyongyang in 2006.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)