North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to hold a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a White House official.
On Monday, United States National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson indicated that the meeting would be part of ongoing discussions over weapons sales between the two countries.
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“As we have warned publicly, arms negotiations between Russia and the DPRK are actively advancing,” Watson said, using an acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea.
“We have information that Kim Jong Un expects these discussions to continue, to include leader-level diplomatic engagement in Russia,” she added.
Last week, the White House said Russia was already in secret, active talks with North Korea to acquire a range of munitions and supplies for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that, despite its denials, North Korea supplied infantry rockets and missiles to Russia last year for use by the privately controlled Wagner military group.
Watson said on Monday that the US urged North Korea “to cease its arms negotiations with Russia and abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia”.
It was the first time that a Russian defence minister had visited the country since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In exchange for the additional weaponry, North Korea is expected to receive technology to improve its satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, according to The New York Times, which broke the story.
Bong Youngshik, research fellow at Yonsei University Institute for North Korean Studies, said a weapons-for-food aid deal was likely if the meeting went ahead.
“The very fact that the summit meeting is required for these countries to finalise the weapons exchange and trade means that there are a lot of details to be ironed out and agreed at the highest levels of government,” Youngshik told Al Jazeera.
“It has been a very difficult negotiation for both sides to struck the deal so the most likely scenario would be Russia to providing food aid and North Korea continuing to be aggressive in contemplating a weapons deal with Russia,” he said.
The US has tried to deter countries like China and North Korea from providing arms to Russia’s military, as it considers Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine an attack on the country’s sovereignty.
Officials say Kim — who rarely travels outside his country — is likely to meet with Putin in the port city of Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast, not far from North Korea.
The trip is expected to echo a similar visit Kim made in April 2019, for his first in-person talks with Putin. That voyage involved Kim travelling by armoured train to Vladivostok, where he toured Russia’s Pacific Fleet and held private talks with Putin on Russky Island.
“I’ve heard so many good things about your country and have long dreamed of visiting,” Kim said at the time.
Earlier on Monday, South Korea’s intelligence agency indicated that the Russian military leadership is pursuing joint naval exercises with North Korea and China, similar to those conducted by the US and its allies.
Shoigu seemed to confirm the rumours to Russia’s Interfax news agency, saying “of course” discussions were underway for joint military exercises.
“Why not? These are our neighbours,” he said on Monday. “There’s an old Russian saying: You don’t choose your neighbours and it’s better to live with your neighbours in peace and harmony.”
Previously, on Saturday, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora said he was unaware of any plans to collaborate with the two countries on military drills.
But he added that any future exercises would be “appropriate”, given the US-led military drills in the region.
North Korea has increased its missile tests in recent months, partly in response to joint exercises between the US, South Korea and Japan. Kim has vowed to “drastically boost” the country’s weapons production as part of its “war preparations”.
On Saturday, North Korea reportedly held a “tactical nuclear attack” simulation, using long-range missiles capped with mock atomic warheads. State media framed the simulation as a warning to the country’s enemies.
And in April, North Korea announced its first successful launch of a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a key milestone in Kim’s five-year arms development plan, announced in 2021. A second launch took place in July.