VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) - Russian authorities are preparing for a possible visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, a local official in Russia’s Far East said on condition of anonymity on Monday.
“We are making preparations,” said the local official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The official declined to give any details about the trip other than that Kim was expected to travel to Russia’s Far East, which borders North Korea, in an armored train.
When asked if Kim was due to visit, the governor of Russia’s Far Eastern region of Primorye, Sergei Darkin, told reporters in Moscow: “I cannot comment on what presidents of other countries plan to do. You will soon find out.”
The Kremlin and Russian Foreign Ministry declined to comment and it was unclear if Kim would meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. South Korean media said last week that Medvedev might meet Kim in Vladivostok, 130 km (80 miles) from the North Korean border, between Wednesday and Friday.
A person who declined to be identified at the North Korean embassy in Moscow said he did not have any information about a possible visit by Kim. He declined further comment.
Kim traveled over 7,000 km (4,500 miles) to Moscow by train in 2001 for Kremlin talks with then-President Vladimir Putin, who is now prime minister. Putin met Kim again in 2002 in Vladivostok, capital of the Primorye region.
Russia’s spy chief Mikhail Fradkov held talks in May with Kim in Pyongyang which authorities said focused on economic projects, humanitarian aid and North Korea’s nuclear program.
Russia and North Korea share a short border on the Pacific coast and were once politically close. But relations cooled and trade fell steeply after the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union in 1991.
Russia is involved in long-stalled six-party talks aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but diplomats say it has less influence on North Korea than does neighboring China.
Reporting by Anna Andrianova; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Alastair Macdonald