(CNSNews.com) – After his first-ever meeting with Kim Jong Un, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated on Thursday that a major priority for the North Korean dictator in nuclear talks with the United States is the need for “security guarantees.”
“Denuclearization,” Putin told reporters in Vladivostok after the summit, “implies North Korea’s disarmament to a certain extent.”
But, he added, North Korea “needs guarantees of its security and sovereignty.”
“First of all, [Kim] is determined to defend his country’s national interests and to maintain its security,” Putin said, according to a translation posted on the Kremlin’s website.
Putin said it was too early to speak about how those guarantees would look, but that it was necessary to take steps towards strengthening trust.
He then implied that the U.S. was responsible for a breakdown in trust, pointing back to an episode during the China-hosted “six-party” talks during the George W. Bush administration.
In 2005 the talks produced a breakthrough agreement in which North Korea “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs,” while the U.S. affirmed it had no nuclear weapons on the peninsula and no intention to use nuclear or conventional weapons “to attack or invade” North Korea.
But the deal, after being reaffirmed in 2007, ran into disputes over verification. North Korea in 2009 withdrew from the six-party talks – the other five parties were the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and South Korea – and the diplomatic initiative never resumed.
Putin on Thursday suggested the U.S. was to blame for the collapse of the process.
“For some reason, our American partners suddenly decided that the provisions stipulated [in the 2005 agreement] and coordinated by the United States were not exhaustive, and that it was necessary to add something else there,” he said. “These aspects were included in the treaty, and North Korea immediately withdrew from it.”
“If we act like this, and if we take one step forward and two backwards, then we would fail to achieve the desired result,” Putin said, but added that he believes it will be possible to achieve the goal if all the parties move carefully and respect each other’s interests.
Asked if he sought to revive the six-party talks framework, Putin said he did not know if it should be resumed right now, but he suspected Kim would want any security assurances to have “international guarantees,” rather than simply be part of an agreement between two countries.
In such a case, he said, “this six-party talks format will certainly be highly relevant to develop a system of international security guarantees for North Korea.”
Putin was not joined by Kim when speaking to reporters after the summit, which included a one-on-one meeting and a banquet.
Putin met with Kim Jong Il on several occasions in both of their countries but Thursday’s summit was his first with the current leader, who took power after his father’s death in late 2011.
‘Bumpy’ road ahead
The diplomacy in Russia’s far east comes at a time of uncertainty in Washington’s unilateral efforts to get the regime to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.
Progress in negotiations has been slow since President Trump’s historic summit with Kim in Singapore last summer. The two met again in Hanoi in February, but the encounter ended early and without agreement.
Tension levels remain relatively low, and there have been no nuclear or ballistic missile tests since late 2017, but Kim in a recent speech signaled that he would give the U.S. until the end of the year to make a “bold decision” to change its approach in the talks, if a third summit with Trump is to be held.
His foreign ministry then demanded that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from the negotiations, complaining about his public comments about Kim.
Asked in Vladivostok whether he would be speaking with the U.S. about the discussions, Putin said he would do so, adding that Kim himself had asked that he convey North Korea’s views to Washington.
He said he would also discuss the talks with Kim with the Chinese. (Immediately after the summit, Putin headed to Beijing for a forum relating to China’s ambitious global infrastructure plans known as the Belt-and-Road initiative.)
Although Kim didn’t join Putin for the press conference, he did speak during their dinner, saying their discussion had included the issue of “guaranteeing peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in the region.”
He also stressed his desire to “strengthen and develop the strategic, traditional, friendly relationship” between his country and Russia.
Pompeo told CBS News on Wednesday he expects the path ahead in the diplomacy to be “bumpy” and “challenging” but that he still sees a way for full denuclearization, if Kim chooses to take “the fundamental strategic decision” which he had told both Pompeo and Trump a number of times that he is prepared to take.
Asked about the current apparent hitches in the process, he noted that the U.S. has been “down this road a number of times with the North Koreans.”
In the past, Pompeo said, “we handed them a bunch of money, in exchange for too little.”
“We’re determined not to make that mistake. I think the North Koreans now see that pretty clearly.”