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April 19, 2019

Kim to meet Putin as tensions rise with US


April 19, 2019

MOSCOW: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia for talks with Vladimir Putin this month, the Kremlin said on Thursday, as tensions between Washington and Pyongyang spiked higher.

The Kremlin announced the talks just hours after North Korea launched a blistering attack on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, demanding he be removed from negotiations over its banned nuclear programme.

Pyongyang also claimed to have tested a new kind of weapon with a "powerful warhead". The Kim-Putin meeting would be the first between the two leaders, as Moscow seeks to play a role in another global flashpoint.

The Kremlin said Putin had invited Kim and that the meeting would take place "in the second half of April" but provided no further details. Russia, South Korean and Japanese media had reported this week that preparations were underway for a summit in Russia’s Far East. Russia has relatively warm ties with Pyongyang and provides some food aid, and Putin has long expressed his readiness to meet with the regime leader.

Quoting diplomatic sources, Russian newspaper Izvestia said the meeting would take place in Vladivostok next week before the Russian leader heads to China for an April 26-27 summit. Meanwhile, two senior US officials -- presidential adviser Fiona Hill and special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun -- were in Moscow this week for talks with Russian officials.

The US embassy in Moscow said Biegun had met with a Russian deputy foreign minister to discuss "respective bilateral engagements with North Korea and efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea."

Pyongyang and Washington have been at loggerheads since the collapse of a summit between Kim and President Donald Trump earlier this year. Upping the ante in the diplomatic standoff, North Korea’s foreign ministry described Pompeo as "reckless" and immature and said it wanted him replaced.

"I am afraid that, if Pompeo engages in the talks again, the table will be lousy once again and the talks will become entangled," the official KCNA news agency quoted Kwon Jong Gun, director general of the ministry’s Department of American Affairs, as saying.

"I wish our dialogue counterpart would be not Pompeo but... (another) person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us." Kwon said Kim had made clear that the US attitude has to change and that Pompeo was standing in the way of a resumption of talks. A State Department spokeswoman said Washington "remains ready to engage North Korea in a constructive negotiation".

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