- Associated Press - Sunday, August 21, 2011

MOSCOW — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il toured a hydroelectric plant Sunday as his train traveled through Russia’s Far East on his first visit to the Cold War-era ally in nine years.

Mr. Kim crossed into Russia on his armored train Saturday at the invitation of President Dmitry Medvedev, with the two leaders expected to meet later in the week to discuss the restart of nuclear-disarmament talks and the construction of a pipeline that would stream Russian natural gas to North and South Korea.

The train stopped in the Russian border city of Khasan, where Mr. Kim was greeted, apparently on board, by senior Russian officials, including Viktor Ishayev, presidential envoy to the Far East region of Russia, according to Russian and North Korean state news agencies.

Mr. Kim’s train then continued its secretive journey west along the Trans-Siberian Railway, stopping briefly early Sunday at the Khabarovsk railway station. Television footage obtained by the Associated Press showed policemen with dogs checking the rails and blocking access to the platform as the train arrived.

Mr. Kim was first seen later Sunday when he left his train in the small Bureya railway station in the Amur province, where he was welcomed by officials and by two women in traditional red Russian costumes offering him bread and salt.

During the stop, he toured a hydro-electric power plant and its 456-foot dam on the Bureya River. A regional news agency, PortAmur, posted some of the only photographs of Mr. Kim’s visit, during which he signed a guest book and watched a film about the power plant, where construction was completed in 2009.

Russia has proposed transmitting surplus electricity produced by the Amur plant to South Korea via North Korea, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Mr. Kim traveled to the hydroelectric plant from the railway station in an armored Mercedes that is being transported on his train, Russian state news agencies reported.

Mr. Kim told Russian officials that he was pleased to see the achievements of the Russian people and thanked them for warmly welcoming him, the official Korean Central News Agency reported from Pyongyang.

Mr. Kim’s visit to Russia comes amid signs that North Korea is increasing efforts to secure aid and restart stalled six-nation disarmament negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program in return for aid and other concessions.

Russia announced Friday that it is providing food assistance, including some 50,000 tons of wheat, to the North, which might face another food crisis this year due to heavy rains.

The 69-year-old Mr. Kim traveled to China in May in a trip seen by many as an attempt to secure aid, investment and support for a transfer of power to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. It was Mr. Kim’s third visit to his country’s closest ally in just over a year.

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