- Associated Press - Thursday, August 25, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il left Russia aboard his armored train late Thursday, crossing into Manchuria in China’s northeast a day after pushing for a return to discussions on his country’s nuclear program.

Mr. Kim’s train — a present to his father from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin — was seen at the Zabaikalsk railway station on the Russian-Chinese border a day after Mr. Kim met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for talks in a Siberian city, the Interfax news agency reported.

The armored carriages have been remodeled and refurbished with a luxurious interior and satellite communications since Soviet times, Russian media reported. Mr. Kim has a fear of flying and uses the train extensively.

After the meeting in Ulan-Ude, Mr. Kim agreed to impose a moratorium on nuclear tests and production if international talks on Pyongyang’s atomic program resume. He also expressed readiness to return to the discussions without preconditions, the Kremlin said.

Faced with deepening sanctions and economic woes, North Korea has pushed to restart the six-sided talks that involve both Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Mr. Kim‘s apparent offer was “a welcome first step” but not enough to restart the long-stalled talks meant to end the North’s nuclear-weapons ambitions.

Washington and Seoul have been wary of the North’s repeated calls for new six-party nuclear talks, calling first for an improvement in dismal ties between the Koreas and for a sincere sign from the North that it will abide by past commitments it has made in previous rounds of talks.

North Korea is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least six atomic bombs, as well as to be working toward mounting a nuclear bomb on a long-range missile.

Russia and North Korea also moved forward this week on a proposal to build a pipeline that will ship Russian natural gas to both Koreas.

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