Russia's foreign minister offers security talks with North Korea and China as he visits Pyongyang

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Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service telegram channel

In this photo released by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via their telegram channel, Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov greet each other during a meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service telegram channel via AP)

Russia's foreign minister proposed regular security talks with North Korea and China to deal with what he described as increasing U.S.-led regional military threats, as he met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his top diplomat Thursday in Pyongyang.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in North Korea's capital on Wednesday on a two-day trip expected to focus on how to boost the two countries' defense ties following a September summit between Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Last week, the United States said North Korea had transferred munitions to Russia to boost its fighting capabilities in Ukraine in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban any weapons trading involving North Korea.

During their talks, Lavrov and Kim exchanged views on making joint efforts to expand bilateral ties in all areas and discussed other key issues of mutual concern, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported. It said Kim expressed his resolve to carry out the unspecified agreements reached with Putin last month.

Lavrov met his North Korean counterpart, Choe Son Hui, earlier Thursday and lauded deepening bilateral collaboration.

Lavrov and Choe discussed "resuming full-fledged contacts" and intensifying economic cooperation, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It added that Lavrov invited Choe to visit Moscow “at her convenience.” KCNA said the two ministers discussed bolstering joint action on several regional and international issues, including the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

The Lavrov-Kim meeting “means that the recent fleet of containers likely carrying munitions from North Korea to Russia was not the last Kim-Putin transaction the world has to worry about," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul.

“After accepting Pyongyang’s help to resupply the illegal invasion of Ukraine, Moscow is set to commit further violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions by providing North Korea with weapons technology that could threaten stability in East Asia,” Easley said.

Russia's state-run news agency Tass quoted Lavrov as telling reporters that he supports holding regular talks on security issues on the Korean Peninsula with North Korea and China.

“The United States, Japan and South Korea intensifying military activity here and Washington working toward moving strategic infrastructure, including nuclear aspects, here, are of great concern to us and our North Korean friends,” Lavrov said, according to Tass.

The recent flurry of diplomacy between Russia and North Korea underscores how their interests are aligning in the face of their separate, intensifying confrontations with the United States — North Korea over its advancing nuclear program and Russia over its war with Ukraine.

The U.S. has been expanding regular military drills with South Korea and temporarily deploying more powerful military assets around the Korean Peninsula in response to North Korea's barrage of missile tests since last year. The U.S. and South Korea have also resumed some trilateral military exercises with Japan.

The focus of outside attention during Lavrov’s visit was whether the two countries would provide any hints of how they will solidify their security cooperation or announce the timing of Putin’s promised trip to Pyongyang to reciprocate Kim's visit to Russia’s Far East.

During his travel to Russia, Kim met Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia’s most important domestic space launch center, and inspected other key Russian weapon-making sites. That triggered intense speculation that Kim seeks sophisticated Russian technologies to modernize his nuclear arsenal in return for supplying conventional arms to refill Russia’s declining weapons inventory. Neither Russia nor North Korea has disclosed what Putin and Kim agreed to during the summit.

During a dinner banquet held for him on Wednesday, Lavrov said Russia deeply values North Korea’s “unwavering and principled support” for its war on Ukraine as well as Pyongyang’s decision to recognize the independence of Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

KCNA said Lavrov also praised North Korea for “remaining unfazed by any pressure of the U.S. and the West,” and said that Russia fully supports Kim’s push to protect its security and economic interests.

The White House said Friday that North Korea had delivered more than 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions to Russia. The White House released images that it said showed the containers were loaded onto a Russian-flagged ship before being moved via train to southwestern Russia.

Since last year, the U.S. has accused North Korea of providing ammunition, artillery shells and rockets to Russia, likely much of them copies of Soviet-era munitions. North Korea has steadfastly denied it shipped arms to Russia, but South Korean officials said North Korean weapons provided to Russia have already been used in Ukraine.

Lim Soosuk, spokesperson of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters Thursday that Seoul was closely monitoring Lavrov’s visit to North Korea and that any cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang should be conducted in a way that complies with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

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