Sunday, August 21, 2011

North Korean leader tours Russia before meeting Medvedev

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited one of Russia's largest hydro power stations on Sunday, Russian news agencies said, part of a tour of the country's Far East before talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.
The reclusive leader, who arrived in Russia on Saturday on a special armored train, met the Kremlin's regional envoy, Viktor Ishayev, and several local officials, Interfax news agency said.
Kim has sought help from regional powers in recent months for his impoverished nation, struggling with recent floods and economic sanctions. After reportedly securing Chinese food aid and investment in May, he is also likely to ask Russia for economic support.
He is expected to hold talks with Medvedev in Ulan-Ude, near Lake Baikal on Tuesday, although the Kremlin's terse statement on Saturday did not say when or where the meeting would take place.
Kim's visit to the Bureyskaya hydro-electric power station in Amur province, where he watched a film on the plant and toured its dam, has fueled speculation that the two countries could discuss energy cooperation, South Korean news agency Yonhap Seoul reported on Sunday.
The energy talks may include relaunching plans to construct a pipeline to supply natural gas from the Russian Far East to South Korea, via North Korea, which the agency said could earn Pyongyang $500 million a year in handling charges.
The pipeline plans have been on hold due to a standoff in ties between North and South Korea despite Russian gas monopoly Gazprom signing a memorandum of understanding with the state-run Korea Gas Corporation, KOGAS, in 2008.
Kim's trip to Russia, his first since 2002, comes weeks after rare talks between Pyongyang and Washington on the resumption of stalled negotiations to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
The six-nation negotiating group includes Russia -- once a close ally of North Korea but more distant after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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