The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, is ready to discuss suspending the country’s testing and production of nuclear weapons if international talks on its atomic programme resume, a Kremlin spokeswoman claimed on Wednesday.
The pledge – made during talks with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev – appeared to be intended to increase the chances of reviving the six-nation aid for disarmament talks, which collapsed when North Korea walked out in 2008.
“Kim Jong-il expressed readiness to return to six-party talks without preconditions,” Medvedev’s spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said after the president met Kim at a military base in the Siberian village of Sosnovy Bor, near Lake Baikal.
“In the course of the talks, the North Koreans will be ready to resolve the issue of imposing a moratorium on testing and production of missile and nuclear weaponry.”
South Korea and the US have called on North Korea to agree to a moratorium before the six-party talks reconvene.
The reclusive North Korean leader arrived in the Siberian city of Ulan-Ude on Tuesday. The city is about 30 miles from the military base in the Russian republic of Buryatia, and about 2,750 miles east of Moscow.
The talks in Russia were Kim’s first since 2002, and he did not speak to reporters afterwards.
But Timakova’s comments suggested Kim wanted no discussion of the moratorium before a resumption of the talks, in which Russia, China and Japan are also involved.
The negotiations are intended to provide impoverished North Korea with economic aid as an incentive for giving up the nuclear weapons programme.
Moscow and Beijing have called for a quick resumption of the meetings. Seoul, Washington and Tokyo said they were willing to resume, but that Pyongyang had to show it was “serious about de-nuclearising”.
The North Korean leader has sought help from regional powers in recent months for his nation, which is struggling with floods and international economic sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons programme.
Kim has left his isolated country to visit China – which now has more influence on Pyongyang than Russia – three times in less than two years.
Citing a “severe deficit” of food products, Russia said on Friday it would send 50,000 tonnes of grain to North Korea by the end of September. The North has also sought foreign investment to improve infrastructure.