(4th LD) N. Korean FM arrives in Russia amid deepening military ties

SEOUL, North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui arrived in Russia on Monday for an official visit, state media reported, as the Kremlin said it aims to further develop ties with the North in all areas. Choe left Pyongyang on Sunday to visit Russia from Monday through Wednesday at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with their talks set to take place Tuesday. Her delegation arrived in Moscow and was greeted at the airport by officials from Russia's foreign ministry and North Korea's ambassador to Moscow, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a short dispatch. Later Monday, the Kremlin said it intends to further develop its partnership with North Korea in all areas, calling the North its "closest neighbor" and "partner," according to foreign media reports. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said dialogue between the two nations will continue on all levels, not ruling out a possible meeting between Choe and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Peskov was also quoted saying Moscow hopes for a visit by Putin to North Korea to take place in the "foreseeable future," adding that further coordination, including its timing, will be discussed through diplomatic channels. Her visit appears to be a reciprocal trip following Lavrov's visit to Pyongyang in October and comes amid suspicions that North Korea has provided weapons to Russia for use in its war with Ukraine in return for Russia's technical assistance for Pyongyang's weapons programs. Pyongyang and Moscow have denied any arms deals so far. Also drawing attention is the issue of whether Choe and Lavrov will discuss a possible trip by Putin to North Korea, as the Russian leader accepted Kim Jong-un's invitation to visit the North during their summit at Russia's Vostochny spaceport in September last year. In April 2019, the North's state media said Putin had accepted Kim's proposal to visit Pyongyang during their first summit in Vladivostok. But at that time, the Kremlin did not confirm it, nor did Putin visit the North. At a year-en d party meeting, the North's leader vowed to strengthen solidarity with countries standing against the United States. He is seeking to bolster ties with China and Russia vis-a-vis the strengthening of security cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. South Korea's unification ministry warned against "illegal" cooperation of the suspected arms trade between Pyongyang and Moscow following the Kim-Putin summit. "North Korea and Russia should be clearly aware that (the international community) is keeping close tabs on Choe's visit to Russia," Koo Byoung-sam, spokesperson at the ministry, told a regular press briefing. Source: Yonhap News Agency