N. Korean Leader Returns Home from Russian Summit

Posted August 25th, 2011 at 9:30 am (UTC-5)
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North Korean leader Kim Jong-IL headed home from Russia on an armored train Thursday, crossing into northeastern China a day after offering to freeze Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and missile programs if six-nation negotiations are resumed.

Russia's Interfax news agency says Mr. Kim's train was seen at a station on the Russia-China frontier (at Zabaikalsk), a day after a Siberian summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. It was not clear whether the reclusive North Korean leader would stop in China or head directly home.

Wednesday's summit at the garrison city of Ulan-Ude ended with a Kremlin announcement that cash and food-strapped Pyongyang was ready to restart nuclear talks without preconditions. Mr. Kim also said the North would abandon its nuclear enrichment programming and testing once the talks resume.

The United States and South Korea — both participants in earlier rounds of six-party negotiations — dismissed Wednesday's proposal as nothing new. Washington and Seoul have insisted for months that the North must dismantle its nuclear programs before any further talks can take place.

North Korea walked away from the six-party talks in 2008 and stepped up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing. Pyongyang also displayed sophisticated uranium enrichment facilities to a visiting U.S. scientist late last year.

Pyongyang's push to reopen talks comes as witnesses and surveillance depict deteriorating economic conditions in the North, including mass food shortages blamed on an unusually harsh winter and recent flooding.