MOSCOW — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il praised the development that is being seen in Russia as he was welcomed by officials at the start of a rare trip to the Cold War era ally, North Korean state media reported Sunday.
Kim crossed into Russia on his armored train Saturday at the invitation of President Dmitry Medvedev, with the two leaders reportedly planning a summit aimed at discussing the restart of nuclear disarmament talks and the construction of a pipeline that would stream Russian natural gas to North and South Korea.
The train stopped in the Russian border city of Khasan on Saturday morning before moving on to its next destination, the official Korean Central News Agency reported from Pyongyang. KCNA and the Kremlin had said earlier that Kim would visit Russia's Far East region and Siberia.
At Khasan's railway station, Kim was greeted by senior Russian officials, including Viktor Ishayev, presidential envoy to the Far East Region of the Russian Federation, KCNA said.
The Russian officials said Kim's trip would mark a historic occasion in moving bilateral ties to a "fresher and higher stage," KCNA said. Kim replied he was very pleased to see the achievements of the Russian people and thanked the Russian officials and people for warmly welcoming him, it said.
After leaving Khasan, Kim's train continued to travel west, stopping briefly at the Khabarovsk railway station before arriving in Amur Region in the Far East on Sunday morning, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified diplomatic sources. In Amur, Kim toured a large-scale hydroelectric power plant, it said.
Russia has proposed transmitting surplus electricity produced by the Amur plant to South Korea via North Korea, Yonhap said.
Kim's visit to Russia — his first since 2002 — comes amid signs that Pyongyang is increasing efforts to secure aid and restart stalled six-nation disarmament negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program in return for aid and other concessions.
Russia announced Friday that it will provide food assistance, including some 50,000 tons of wheat, to the North, which might face another food crisis this year due to heavy rains.
The 69-year-old Kim traveled to China in May in a trip seen by many as an attempt to secure aid, investment and support for a transfer of power to his youngest son Kim Jong Un. It was Kim's third visit to his country's closest ally in just over a year.
Seoul expert Yang said that Kim is now also seeking Russia's support for the father-to-son power transfer.
The younger Kim's name wasn't in the KCNA dispatch that listed top officials who were accompanying Kim on his Russia trip. Among the officials who were listed were defense chief Kim Yong Chun; Kang Sok Ju, Kim's key foreign policy adviser and vice premier; and Jang Song Thaek, Kim's brother-in-law and a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.
Russian state news channel Rossiya 24 reported that Medvedev will meet Kim in Ulan Ude, the capital of Buryatia, a Buddhist province near Lake Baikal. Kim would have to travel about 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) on the Trans-Siberian Railway along the borders with China and Mongolia to reach Ulan Ude from Khasan.
Yonhap said Kim's train left Amur for Ulan Ude later Sunday and his summit with Medvedev will take place Tuesday at an army base.
The Kremlin press service said that details of Kim's visit were still being worked out with the North Korean side.
Kim last visited Russia in 2002, a four-day trip limited to the Far East. A year earlier, however, he made a 24-day train trek across the country.
Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea. Associated Press writers Sam Kim and Jiyoung Won in Seoul and Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow contributed to this report.