- Associated Press - Monday, August 22, 2011

MOSCOW — Russian military officers flew to North Korea for talks about renewing military ties on Monday as North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s armored train rolled through the resource-rich far east of Russia on his secretive journey to a summit with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Mr. Kim is to meet Mr. Medvedev later this week near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia during his first visit to his country’s Cold War ally in nine years.

North Korea increasingly is showing signs it is prepared to restart six-nation disarmament talks in exchange for aid, after more than a year of tension during which it shelled a South Korean border island and allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship.

Russian military officials arrived in the North Korean capital on Monday for a five-day visit, the Tass news agency reported from Pyongyang.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the talks will focus on the renewal of military cooperation between the countries, possible joint exercises “of a humanitarian nature” and an exchange of friendly visits by Russian and North Korean ships.

Russia and North Korea also will discuss “possibilities of joint exercises and training of search-and-rescue operations for sinking vessels as well as providing assistance to people during natural disasters.”

Military expert Alexander Golts said North Korea’s goal in inviting the Russian military could be to assuage fears of instability as Russia is considering building a natural gas pipeline through North Korea. The pipeline is expected to be one of the main topics of Mr. Kim and Mr. Medvedev’s talks.

Mr. Golts said it is highly unlikely Russia would renew arms sales to North Korea, which would not be in its interests as a participant in the six-party talks. He also noted the low level of the Russian delegation, which is led by the commander of Russia’s eastern military district.

Mr. Kim’s train crossed into Russia on Saturday morning and passed through Khabarovsk before heading west along a railway running roughly parallel with Russia’s borders with China and Mongolia.

Mr. Kim’s next stop was unclear. Yonhap, however, citing an unidentified Russian intelligence source, reported Monday that the North Korean leader’s train could be heading toward the city of Skovorodino.

Skovorodino is the starting point for a 600-mile oil pipeline linking oil fields of eastern Siberia and China that was inaugurated last year. Yonhap said Mr. Kim’s expected stop at Skovorodino could be related to Russia’s proposal to provide energy to the Korean peninsula.

One key topic for Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Kim’s talks is expected to be the construction of a pipeline that would stream Russian natural gas through the North’s territory to the South.

South Korean media said the North could earn up to $100 million every year, but negotiations haven’t reported much progress because of the nuclear dispute.

North Korean diplomats separately met U.S. and South Korean officials last month to discuss the resumption of the nuclear talks, which have been stalled for more than two years.

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.

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