VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un paid his respects at a ceremony honoring the war dead Friday before wrapping up a brief and generally successful visit to the Russian Far East for his first summit with President Vladimir Putin.
Kim left for Pyongyang on Friday afternoon by his private train about 4 ½ hours earlier than planned after his delegation requested to cut his visit short, Russian news agencies reported.
Earlier in the day, Kim visited a park near the headquarters of the Russian navy’s Pacific Fleet for the wreath-laying ceremony that was held two hours later than expected.
Wearing a black suit and a fedora, he followed two goose-stepping Russian soldiers carrying a plate of red flowers with his name spelled out in Korean in gold colors on a red ribbon. Kim then laid flowers, took off his hat and bowed as a Russian military band played music, including North Korea’s national anthem.
Kim also sat down for lunch with the local governor and business people on the outskirts of town before going to the main railway station but did not show up at an aquarium and a ballet performance. Both venues had been closed down for security checks.
Vladivostok motorists breathed a sigh of relief at Kim’s departure as traffic in the city of half a million has been severely disrupted since Kim’s arrival on Tuesday. Just like two days earlier, traffic was completely blocked in all of the city center during the sendoff ceremony for Kim.
Following their talks on Thursday, Putin indicated that he might be willing to play a bigger role in breaking the stalemate over Washington’s push for denuclearization and Kim’s demands for sanctions relief.
He said he would be willing to share details with the United States about his summit with Kim and suggested that Kim is willing to give up nuclear weapons, but only if he gets ironclad security guarantees supported by a multinational agreement.
Kim criticized Washington for taking a “unilateral attitude in bad faith” at his February meeting with President Donald Trump in Hanoi said that has caused the diplomatic standstill, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said Friday. He also told Putin the situation on the Korean Peninsula has reached a “critical point” and whether it returns to tensions will “entirely depend on the U.S. future attitude.”
The agency said Putin credited Kim’s diplomatic initiatives for stabilizing the situation surrounding the peninsula and accepted Kim’s invitation to visit North Korea at a “convenient time.”
No specific measures coming out of the summit have been reported by either side. After meeting Kim, Putin later headed for a two-day trip to Beijing, where he said he will inform the Chinese leadership about the summit.
The leaders’ comments suggest there has been no significant shift in Kim’s 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.
Along with a statement of political support, Kim was also 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.
Associated Press writer Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.