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Putin and Kim embrace in North Korea, vow new multi-polar world

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By Josh Smith and Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) -Shortly after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un embraced Russian Vladimir Putin on his arrival at Pyongyang’s airport on Wednesday, the two leaders shared their “pent-up inmost thoughts” and agreed to develop their nations’ relations, North Korean state media said.

Putin, who arrived in the pre-dawn hours, is on his first trip to the North Korean capital in 24 years, a visit likely to reshape decades of Russia-North Korea relations at a time when both countries face international isolation.

The countries’ partnership is an “engine for accelerating the building of a new multi-polar world” and Putin’s visit demonstrates the invincibility and durability of their friendship and unity, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said.

Russia has used its warming ties with North Korea to needle Washington, while heavily sanctioned North Korea has won political backing and promises of economic support and trade from Moscow.

The United States and its allies say they fear Russia could provide aid for North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, which are banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions, and have accused Pyongyang of providing ballistic missiles and artillery shells that Russia has used in its war in Ukraine.

Moscow and Pyongyang have denied weapons transfers.

Kim greeted Putin, shaking hands, embracing and talking beside the Russian leader’s plane. The pair then rode in the same limousine to the Kumsusan State Guest House.

“Passing through charmingly lit streets of Pyongyang at night, the top leaders exchanged their pent-up inmost thoughts and opened their minds to more surely develop the DPRK-Russia relations,” KCNA reported, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

Wednesday’s agenda includes one-on-one discussions between the two leaders, as well as a gala concert, state reception, honour guards, document signings and a statement to the media, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov as saying.

In a signal that Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, is reassessing its entire approach to North Korea, Putin praised Pyongyang ahead of his arrival for resisting what he said was U.S. economic pressure, blackmail and threats.

In an article carried on the front page of North Korea’s main ruling party newspaper, he promised to “develop alternative trade and mutual settlement mechanisms not controlled by the West” and “build an equal and indivisible security architecture in Eurasia.”

Putin’s article implies that there is an opportunity for North Korea’s economic growth within an anti-West economic bloc led by Russia, which is a message that is likely appealing to Kim Jong Un, wrote Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with the 38 North programme in Washington.

“If Pyongyang views Russia as a viable longer-term partner for improving its economy – as irrational as this may seem to some – there is even less of an incentive for it to try to improve relations with the United States,” she said in a report.

Putin also issued a presidential order on the eve of the visit saying Moscow was looking to sign a “comprehensive strategic partnership treaty” with North Korea. Ushakov said it would include security issues.

Ushakov said the deal would not be directed against any other country, but would “outline prospects for further cooperation”.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Josh Smith; Editing by Stephen Coates and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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