- Associated Press - Sunday, August 21, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) — 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 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 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.

Later in the day, Mr. Kim toured a hydroelectric power plant and its 456-foot dam on the Bureya River in the Amur province, the ITAR-Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies reported. A regional news agency, PortAmur, posted 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.

Mr. Kim wore his trademark Mao-style khaki jumpsuit, and in all but one of the photographs he is seen wearing dark sunglasses. He traded them for regular eyeglasses when presented with a framed picture as a gift.

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 Bureya railway station in an armored Mercedes that is being transported on his train, the Russian news agencies reported. RIA Novosti said Mr. Kim’s train consists of 17 rail cars, plus four Russian cars that were added in Khasan to transport Mr. Ishayev, who is traveling with Mr. Kim, and also Russian security guards and service personnel.

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 was 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 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.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said that Mr. Kim now is also seeking Russia‘s support for the father-to-son power transfer.

However, the younger Mr. Kim’s name wasn’t in the KCNA dispatch that listed top officials who were accompanying the elder Mr. Kim on his Russia trip. Among the officials who were listed were defense chief Kim Yong-chun; Kang Sok-ju, Mr. Kim’s key foreign policy adviser and vice premier; and Jang Song-thaek, Mr. Kim’s brother-in-law and a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.

Russian state news channel Rossiya 24 reported that Mr. Medvedev will meet Mr. Kim in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, a Buddhist province near Lake Baikal. Mr. Kim would have to travel about 1,860 miles on the Trans-Siberian Railway along the borders with China and Mongolia to reach Ulan-Ude from Khasan.

Yonhap said Mr. Kim’s train left Amur for Ulan Ude later Sunday and his summit with Mr. Medvedev will take place Tuesday at an army base.

The Kremlin press service said that Mr. Kim’s trip, expected to last about a week, would take him into eastern Siberia and that a meeting with Mr. Medvedev would be the main event of his visit. No other details have been released.

Mr. Kim last visited Russia in 2002 on a four-day trip limited to the Far East. A year earlier, however, he made a 24-day train trek across the country to Moscow and back.

Hyung-jin Kim reported from Seoul. Associated Press writers Sam Kim and Jiyoung Won in Seoul and Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow contributed to this report.



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