North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may travel to Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin about the possible sale of arms to support Moscow’s war in Ukraine, the White House said Monday, as the two U.S. adversaries continue to strengthen ties.
U.S. officials say potential arms sales from North Korea to Russia were discussed during Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s trip to Pyongyang in July, the first such visit by a Russian defense minister since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“We have information that Kim Jong Un expects these discussions to continue, to include leader-level diplomatic engagement in Russia,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
The Kremlin said Tuesday that it could not confirm the reports. “We have nothing to say on this topic,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at a news briefing.
Watson did not say when or where in Russia Putin might meet with Kim, who rarely leaves his isolated communist country and has not ventured abroad since before the pandemic. When he does go overseas, as when he first visited Russia in 2019, he usually travels by armored train.
Watson added that the U.S. urges North Korea “to cease its arms negotiations with Russia and abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia.”
The White House National Security Council made the comments after The New York Times reported that Kim plans to meet with Putin in Russia this month — most likely in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok.
Last week, the White House said that arms negotiations between North Korea and Russia were “actively advancing” and that Kim and Putin had exchanged letters pledging to increase their cooperation after Shoigu’s visit.
Artillery munitions are likely to be a particular focus, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, as Russian forces struggle to hold off a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Any arms deal between North Korea and Russia would violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Kirby did not say how the U.S. obtained the intelligence, which had been declassified. The exchange of letters was also reported last month by North Korean state media.
Since Russian invaded Ukraine in February 2022, U.S. officials have routinely released declassified intelligence to deter North Korea, China and others from secretly sending weapons to Moscow. Both North Korea and China have denied the U.S. accusations.
With U.S. talks over his nuclear weapons and missile programs stalled since 2019, Kim has sought to strengthen his relations with Russia, as well as China, which also sent a high-level delegation to Pyongyang in July.
Shoigu said Monday that Russia and North Korea might hold joint military drills.
“We are discussing it with everyone, including DPRK,” he said, using an initialism for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Why not? They are our neighbors.”