WHEN KIM MET PUTIN

One could assume safely that the winds of change are blowing thick & fast across the Korean Peninsula & that Russia is the new deal broker between the US & North Korea.

BY SUNEEL KOUL

In what appears to be a very calculated diplomatic initiative, North Korean leader Kin Jong UN met with the Russian President Vladimir Putin recently. After the unceremonious exit by the US in Hanoi during the second round of talks with the North Korean leadership, Russia seems to have butted in the long unresolved issue of nuclear disarmament of the Korean peninsula. Some analysts point out to the excellent relations enjoyed by Trump & Putin & this move may have been guided by the renewed interest in allying of the two cold war powers. With China acting coy over the Masood Azhar issue & with its negotiations on the trade tariffs with US entering a crucial phase, such engineering of a meeting by the two leaders has assumed greater significance. This was the first ever trip by the North Korean leader since his father’s meeting with Russian PM Medvedev in 2011.

The theory that Putin may have been informally nudged to broker a deal with the US was somewhat evident what he had to say at the end of the meeting & after Kim had returned by train to his native land. President Vladimir Putin said that he was willing to share details with the United States about his summit with Kim Jong Un, potentially raising Russia’s influence in the stalemated issue of North Korean denuclearization.The two leaders’ first one-on-one did not indicate major changes in North Korea’s position. While Putin confirmed that Kim was willing to give up nuclear weapons, but only if he got ironclad security guarantees was indication enough to the US. In furtherance to this position, Putin said Kim urged him to explain the nuances of North Korea’s position to President Donald Trump. Hence such an interlocutor role could be meaningful in light of Trump’s apparent admiration of the Russian leader.

President Trump has been more than expressive of his ‘love” for the North Korean leader, this indicated a strong proclivity to being swayed toward accommodation with the North Korean leader, regardless of the Hanoi outcome in February. While Kim has held on to his demands of a fair deal that matched sanctions relief with their action on disarmament. Apparently Kim is reported to have criticized Washington for taking “unilateral attitude in bad faith” at the Trump-Kim meeting that has caused a diplomatic standstill & in that light he told Putin that “the situation on the Korean Peninsula has reached a “critical point” where it could return to tensions and that peace and security will “entirely depend on the U.S. future attitude”.

According to news reports Kim and Putin held in-depth discussions to promote “strategic communication and tactical collaboration” over the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and also talked about boosting high-level visits and other exchanges between the countries.Putincredited Kim’s diplomatic initiatives for stabilizing the situation surrounding the peninsula and accepted Kim’s invitation to visit North Korea at a “convenient time.” It did not report on any specific agreements regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and U.S.-led sanctions against the North.After the summit, Putin stressed that Moscow and Washington both want North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons. But, he said, the security guarantees Kim demands in exchange should be underwritten by multiple countries, hinting at an arrangement like the six-nation talks Russia participated in until their collapse in 2009.

In another significant development, Putin later headed for a two-day trip to Beijing, where he said he will inform the Chinese leadership about the summit. Confirming this he said “And we will just as openly discuss this issue with the U.S. leadership,” There are no secrets. Russia’s position always has been transparent. There are no plots of any kind.”Putin’s remarks reflect Kim’s growing frustration with Washington’s efforts to maintain “maximum pressure” until the North commits to denuclearization.But his characterization of Kim’s comments also suggests there have been no major changes in North Korea’s basic position.
North Korea has all along contended that it needs its nuclear arsenal to defend itself against what it sees as U.S. hostility and wants concrete reassurances of its safety, including the removal of the American nuclear threat as an integral part of the denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula. On his part, Trump has made clear that he is eager to work out a deal with North Korea and has already indicated that he thinks he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Russia’s involvement in the issue could bolster his confidence, though some analysts think Washington and Moscow are too far estranged.The fact that Kim Jon Un asked Vladimir Putin to brief the Chinese and U.S. leadership on the results of the summit attests to Russia’s significant role as a guarantor of security in the Asia-Pacific region, is what some analysts have deduced from the summit level talks between the two leaders.

Russian diplomacy has often been shrouded & it would be difficult to know immediately as to what other agreements the leaders might have struck.Along with a statement of political support, Kim was believed to be looking for some kind of economic support and possibly even a workaround to sanctions that will force more than 10,000 North Korean laborers in Russia to leave by the end of the year. The laborers are a major source of income for Pyongyang.Putin said they discussed the issue and would find a solution taking into account “humanitarian” factors, though he didn’t say what that would be.On the economic front, both sides share an interest in enhanced cooperation if sanctions are eased.

Notwithstanding the role & responsibility that Russia would like to anoint to itself, it sees a major access & opportunity to North Korea’s mineral resources, including rare metals. Pyongyang, for its part, covets Russia’s electricity supplies and investment to modernize its dilapidated Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.For Putin, the summit was also seen as an opportunity for Russia to emerge as an essential player in the North Korean nuclear standoff.Moscow has kept a relatively low profile as Kim embarked on what has been an audacious diplomatic journey over the past year.The Putin summit follows four summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and two with Trump. Despite the current stalemate, Trump has said he would like to meet Kim again.