Two months after his second denuclearization summit with President Donald Trump broke down because of disputes over U.S. sanctions, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held his first face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders met Thursday on Russky Island in eastern Russia, near the port city of Vladivostok. They pledged to boost ties and defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and Putin said North Korea was ready to denuclearize if given security guarantees.
"There are no secrets," Putin said after the talks concluded, indicating his willingness to act as a mediator in stalled diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington.
A Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, collapsed in February without a deal over North Korea's nuclear arsenal.
In Vladivostok, where Kim and Putin approached each other with wide smiles and lingered in front of cameras for an extended handshake, Russia's leader voiced confidence that Kim’s first visit to Russia will "help better understand what should be done to settle the situation on the Korean Peninsula, what we can do together, what Russia can do to support the positive processes going on now."
Putin called for the resumption of six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear program. He stressed the need for multilateral cooperation to support Pyongyang. The talks would include the two Koreas, plus China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
"We welcome your efforts to develop an inter-Korean dialogue and normalize North Korea’s relations with the United States," Putin told Kim.
Kim said the two leaders had a "very meaningful exchange" and expressed a desire to continue "jointly apprising and studying" mutual interests and "current issues."
He congratulated Putin on his re-election last year to another six-year term.
The Trump-Kim talks in Vietnam ended without any agreement because of differences over demands for Pyongyang to denuclearize and for Washington to drop sanctions. There have since been no publicly known high-level contacts between the United States and North Korea, although both sides say they are open to a third summit.
Kim wants the United States to ease the sanctions to reciprocate for some partial disarmament steps he took last year. Washington maintains the sanctions need to stay in place until North Korea makes more significant denuclearization moves.
North Korea expressed frustration at the deadlocked negotiations.
Last week, Pyongyang test-fired what it called a new "tactical guided weapon" and demanded U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from the nuclear talks.
Kim arrived in Vladivostok on Wednesday aboard an armored train. He told Russian state media he hoped his first visit to Russia would be "successful and useful." He evoked his father's "great love for Russia" and said he intends to strengthen ties between the two countries. His father, Kim Jong Il, made three trips to Russia, the last time in 2011. Like the United States, Russia opposes Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
Putin reiterated that opposition Thursday.
The White House did not comment on the Kim-Putin summit.
Kim Jong Un plays hardball: North Korea wants Pompeo out of talks
Putin welcomed Trump’s meetings with Kim but urged the United States to do more to assuage Pyongyang’s security concerns. He said in a news conference Thursday that Pyongyang needs serious security guarantees before it gives up its nuclear program. Putin didn’t specify what those security guarantees should be but said they would probably need to be underwritten by multiple nations.
Before the talks, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said Russia would seek to "consolidate the positive trends" stemming from Trump-Kim meetings. He noted that the Kremlin would try to help "create preconditions and a favorable atmosphere for reaching solid agreements on the problem of the Korean Peninsula."
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Putin probably encouraged Kim to continue constructive talks with the United States, reflecting Russia’s own worry about the North's nuclear and missile programs.
"Russia can’t be expected to side with North Korea and, let’s say, support the North Koreans all the way in the Security Council where Russia is a veto-wielding member and where all sanctions imposed on North Korea require Russia’s approval," he said.
Trenin emphasized that Moscow is skeptical the North could be persuaded to fully abandon its nuclear weapons, considering it a "mission impossible."
"North Korea will not give up the only guarantee of the survival of the North Korean state and its regime," Trenin said.
Russia would like to gain broader access to North Korea’s mineral resources, including rare metals. Pyongyang covets Russia’s electricity supplies and investment to modernize its dilapidated Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.
At the start of a dinner banquet with Putin in Vladivostok, Kim made a toast and said the people of North Korea "always have affectionate and brotherly emotions about the people of Russia and feel pride that a great country like Russia is a close neighbor."
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: After Kim-Trump summit collapse, North Korean leader holds talks with Vladimir Putin