MOSCOW — After a "fun trip" across Siberia on his armored train, North Korea's autocratic leader Kim Jong Il met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday for talks expected to focus on nuclear disarmament, energy deals and economic aid.
The summit takes place at a military garrison outside Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, some 3,000 miles east of Moscow.
Kim arrived at the base in an armored Mercedes limousine and wore his trademark khaki leisure suit. He thanked Medvedev for flying from the Black Sea port of Sochi to meet him.
"When it comes to meetings with our partners, neighbors, it's not that far," Medvedev said.
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"Thanks to your special attention and care, Mr. President, we're having a fun trip," Kim replied through a translator.
Kim's custom-built train has rolled across sections of eastern Russia in a trip that began Saturday. He is expected to start his return trip home "immediately" after the talks, the Itar-Tass news agency said.
It is Kim's first visit to Russia since 2002.Story: All aboard the armored train: North Korea's Kim Jong Il visits Russia
The Kremlin said the leaders will discuss how to quickly resume long-stalled six-nation talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons program in return for aid.
Another likely topic would be Moscow's proposal to build a pipeline through the North's territory that would allow Russia to stream natural gas to South Korea. North Korea, long reluctant, has recently shown interest in the project, South Korea officials said.
Seoul has expressed hope that negotiations on the project will make progress.
"One of the pressing themes on the agenda will be prospects for launching tripartite economic projects with the participation of Russia, South Korea and North Korea," the Kremlin statement said.
Also under discussion is an energy project that would involve the extension of power lines to make it possible for Russia to sell electricity from plants like the Bureya hydroelectric plant that Kim visited at the start of his trip.
Kim's Russian trip comes as his country pushes to restart the aid-for-disarmament talks. Seoul and Washington have demanded that the North first show its sincerity on fulfilling past nuclear commitments.
The Korean peninsula has seen more than a year of tension during which the North shelled a South Korean island and allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship.Story: Is South ready for rise of North Korean defections?
North Korea is pushing for outside aid ahead of an important national anniversary next year. Kim has promised his 24 million people that he will build a "powerful, prosperous" nation to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of his father and North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung.
Last month, North Korean diplomats separately met U.S. and South Korean officials to discuss the resumption of the talks, which have been stalled for more than two years. The negotiations involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
The itinerary for Kim's visit, expected to last about a week, has been largely kept secret because of worries about security from North Korea. A few people managed to take photos of Kim during his visit to the hydroelectric plant on Sunday, but heavy police cordons kept the media and onlookers in Ulan-Ude away from the train station and the adjacent square.
On Tuesday, Kim's motorcade headed for a picturesque village on the shores of Baikal, a huge freshwater lake.
Kim took a two-hour Baikal tour on a yacht guarded by two North Korean boats, the Inform Polis Online website reported, quoting eyewitness accounts. Cruising the waters, Kim recollected that his father visited the lake in July 1961, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported from Pyongyang.Slideshow: The life of Kim Jong ll (on this page)
The water in Baikal is ice-cold even in summertime, so Kim decided to take a swim onshore, in a pool filled with Baikal water.
The speaker of Buryatia's legislature joined Kim in the swim, the Inform Polis Online website reported.
Kim said the lake is "the pride of the Russian people and underscored the need to preserve it and surrounding natural environment well," according to KCNA.
On shore, the North Korean leader was treated to traditional Buryat food, including meat dumplings and Baikal fish prepared over an open fire.
Later Tuesday, Kim went back to Ulan-Ude to visit a major aircraft factory, which among other things produces Sukhoi attack planes, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported from the plant.
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