North Korean Leader Travels in Secrecy Toward Russian Summit

Posted August 22nd, 2011 at 4:10 am (UTC-5)
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Tight secrecy surrounded the travel plans of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il Monday, as his armored train carried him toward a summit this week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying Mr. Kim would likely stop in the Siberian city of Skovorodino before continuing on to meet Mr. Medvedev on Wednesday. But China's Xinhua news agency said Mr. Kim had already arrived in Ulan-Ude, where the leaders are expected to discuss energy cooperation and other issues.

Despite the secrecy, North Korea's KCNA news agency has been more forthcoming than on Mr. Kim's previous trips, which were not announced until they were over. On Sunday, the agency reported Mr. Kim had been greeted with flags, military bands and traditional gifts of bread and salt at Russian train stations along his route.

Also Sunday, Mr. Kim toured a hydroelectric plant and dam on the Bureya River in Russia's Amur province. Reports say Russia would like to sell energy from the plant to North and South Korea.

Energy cooperation is expected to be a major issue in the talks in Ulan-Ude. Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency said last week that Mr. Medvedev has requested North Korean cooperation on the construction of a gas pipeline from Russia, through North Korea to South Korea.

Such a pipeline would give South Korea huge savings on natural gas shipments from Russia which are to begin later in this decade. North Korea would be able to ease its shortage of hard currency by charging transit fees.

KCNA said Russia has also proposed three-party cooperation in other energy fields and on a rail line linking Seoul to Russia's Trans-Siberia Railway.

The leaders are also likely to discuss food aid for North Korea and efforts to resume talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.