Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday began their first official meeting in the Far Eastern Russian port city of Vladivostok.
“I’m happy to see you here,” Putin told Kim, adding that he hoped he could help resolve the dispute between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
“We welcome your efforts on the development of inter-Korean dialogue and on the normalization of North Korean-US relations,” he added.
The two leaders were pictured shaking hands at the beginning of their meeting under tight security on Russky island, part of a university campus, before sitting down and smiling into the waiting cameras.
After the ceremonial greeting the two leaders were to hold one-on-one talks followed by expanded talks, according to the Russian news agency TASS. No formal statement or declaration were expected.
The talks were also to focus on economic cooperation between the two countries.
They come as North Korea seeks allies after the failure of a summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi in February.
Washington wants Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons while North Korea is seeking the lifting of international sanctions which have stifled its economy.
Moscow and Pyongyang have traditionally had good relations but Kim only accepted the invitation to Russia recently, having first been invited in May last year.
“Putin-Kim Jong Un meet in Vladivostok on Thursday will not result in breakthroughs,” Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, tweeted on Wednesday.
“This is essentially a side-show in continuing saga btw Pyongyang and Washington. Russia will seek to score diplomatic points by demonstrating its relevance; North Korea, by showing it has options.”
Sanctions approved by the United Nations in 2017, demanding the return of all North Korean guest workers within two years, will likely be among the topics of discussion between Putin and Kim.
There are tens of thousands of North Koreans working in Russia, providing an important source of foreign income for North Korea, and neither side are keen to end the arrangement.
Russia also wants to see an end to North Korea’s nuclear programme, fearing that Pyongyang could attempt to earn hard currency by selling its technology to non-state actors and terrorist groups, according to Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
After Thursday’s meeting Putin is to travel to Beijing to take part in China’s second Belt and Road Forum aimed at reviving ancient trading routes and building new ones.
Little progress has been made in US-North Korean negotiations since Trump and Kim first met in Singapore last year, and tensions have continued to simmer.
North Korea this month demanded that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be replaced as chief negotiator in their talks, saying he should be replaced with someone “more mature.”
And on Thursday Pyongyang threatened a “corresponding response” from its army after the US and South Korea launched a two-week long series of joint airforce drills earlier this week.
Pyongyang has long viewed joint military exercises by the two countries as a provocation and a rehearsal for an invasion of North Korea.
The latest drills were an “outright challenge” to the Panmunjom peace declaration signed by the North and South Korean leaders last year, a spokesman from Pyongyang’s reunification committee was quoted as saying by state-run news agency KCNA.