Medvedev wins nuclear pledge at rare N. Korea talks

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North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il on Wednesday promised President Dmitry Medvedev, in rare talks, that his reclusive state was prepared to renounce nuclear testing and allow transit of a gas pipeline.

The meeting followed Kim's four-day train ride through Russia's Far East and Siberia, his third visit to the giant neighbour in the last decade but first since 2002.

The secretive Kim made no comment to reporters after the meeting outside the Siberian city of Ulan-Ude some 5,550 kilometres (3,450 miles) east of Moscow, but Medvedev expressed satisfaction with the outcome.

"I am full of positive feelings. The meeting was substantive and open," Medvedev said.

He told reporters that North Korea supported a planned pipeline to carry Russian gas supplies to South Korea through the North, a route that would allow Moscow to reach new energy-hungry Asian markets.

He said the proposed pipeline would stretch more than 1,700 kilometres (1,000 miles) and start with volumes of up to 10 billion cubic metres per year.

The deal would concern "the transit of gas across the territory of North Korea and accordingly the addition to this project of the Republic of Korea, considering that the main consumers are on its territory," Medvedev said.

After a long-lasting freeze in the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear programme, a Kremlin official said Pyongyang was ready to impose a moratorium on nuclear testing and processing if the discussions resume.

"Without preconditions, in the course of the negotiations, the North Koreans will be ready to solve the issue of introducing a moratorium on testing and spent nuclear fuel processing," Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said.

North Korea has previously called for an early resumption of six-party talks -- including China, Japan and the United States as well as the two Koreas and Russia -- "without preconditions".

But South Korea insists that its neighbour must first suspend its atomic activities. Pyongyang stormed out of the six-party negotiations in April 2009 and conducted its second nuclear test a month later.

Kim earlier swept up to the meeting at the Sosnovy Bor (Pine Forest) garrison outside Ulan-Ude in a 1990s black Mercedes with no number plates.

He was personally welcomed by Medvedev, the Russian president's business suit and bright violet tie creating a glaring contrast with the dull khaki uniform of the North Korean supremo.

The two men sat at a small table decorated with white flowers, backed by the flags of the two nations. They were later joined by their delegations for full negotiations.

Kim had arrived in Ulan-Ude aboard his armoured train a day earlier on a week-long Trans-Siberian journey which started at the weekend when he crossed the border into Russia's Far East.

His journey has seen him enjoy varied excursions including taking a dip in Siberian waters, touring a plant making assault aircraft, taking a trip on the famed Lake Baikal, eating local fish and visiting a hydro-power station.

"I hope that you have been able to see what you wanted to," said Medvedev. Kim replied: "Thank you for the great attention from your side Mr President, we are having a very fun journey."

Kim is also seeking more economic and food aid from Moscow amid fears of a hunger crisis. Moscow said on the eve of Kim's arrival that it was sending up to 50,000 tonnes of wheat to North Korea.

North Korea's Soviet-era debt of $11 billion was also discussed at the meeting, with a Russian source saying that some progress had been made.

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said the first step involves Pyongyang acknowledging that its owes the money to Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union, followed by agreement on the mechanism for the payback.

Kim last travelled to Russia in 2002 when he met then president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok. In May, Kim visited China, a third visit in just over a year to his country's sole major ally and economic lifeline.

The Kremlin says any opportunity must be seized to engage the Stalinist state in dialogue and trilateral projects could help promote stability on the divided Korean peninsula.

© 2011 AFP

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