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Russian president Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation to visit North Korea made by Kim Jong Un during the two leaders’ landmark talks this week, the Kremlin and Pyongyang state media said on Thursday.
Such a visit would be Putin’s first to North Korea since 2000 and would highlight deepening relations between Moscow and Pyongyang that have dismayed the US and its regional allies.
“During a one-on-one conversation, Kim Jong Un invited Putin to visit North Korea. Putin gratefully accepted this invitation, and all further arrangements will continue through diplomatic channels,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.
North Korean state news agency KCNA said Putin had accepted Kim’s invitation “with pleasure” at what it called their “epoch-making” summit at the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia’s far east on Wednesday.
At the meeting, Kim offered his “full and unconditional support” for Russia’s war in Ukraine, calling it a “sacred fight” against imperialism and the west.
KCNA said the two leaders also discussed issues of mutual interest, regional peace and security and international justice, but gave no details of any agreement reached.
Putin last visited North Korea in July 2000 for a meeting with Kim’s late father, the then leader Kim Jong Il. Peskov gave no details of possible timing for Putin’s visit, but said Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov planned to travel to North Korea in October.
Peskov said that during their meeting, Putin gave Kim gifts including a Russian rifle and had received from the North Korean leader a rifle made by “North Korean craftsmen”.
Officials in Washington and Seoul suspect the two leaders discussed an arms deal where North Korea could supply conventional munitions to support Russia’s war in Ukraine, with Moscow providing technology to help Pyongyang build spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.
Putin said on Wednesday Russia could provide technical help for North Korea’s satellite launches.
“We express our deep concern and regret that despite repeated warnings from the international community, North Korea and Russia discussed military co-operation issues, including satellite development,” said Lim Soo-suk, a South Korean foreign ministry spokesperson.
“Any science and technology co-operation that contributes to nuclear weapons and missile development, including satellite systems that involve ballistic missile technologies, runs against UN Security Council resolutions,” Lim told a briefing.
US state department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Wednesday the talk of co-operation on space was “troubling” as it would violate Security Council resolutions that Moscow had supported.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also expressed concerns about “any burgeoning defence relationship” between North Korea and Russia.
“No nation on the planet, nobody, should be helping Mr Putin kill innocent Ukrainians,” Kirby told a press briefing on Wednesday.
Seoul has warned that any potential arms transfers between Moscow and Pyongyang would provoke stronger responses from South Korea, the US and Japan, which have recently stepped up their security co-operation. Washington has warned of additional sanctions on Russia and North Korea in case of any new arms deals.
But analysts said it would be difficult for the US and its allies to put significant pressure on Moscow and Pyongyang.
“There is no way that the UN Security Council can impose any fresh sanctions on the two countries,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute think-tank in Seoul. “The US and South Korea can take unilateral measures against them, but there are not many effective options remaining in their cards.”
Kim continued his Russian trip on his luxury armoured train on Thursday. Seoul’s state-run Yonhap News said he was scheduled to visit an aircraft factory on Friday and would then head to Vladivostok to see Russia’s Pacific fleet before returning home on Saturday night.
Additional reporting by Anastasia Stognei in Riga