Kim Jong Un to Tour Russian Jet Plant as US Warns on Arms Deals

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(Bloomberg) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to tour a Russian factory that makes military aircraft, the Associated Press reported, as the US warned he is on a visit that could support Moscow’s assault on Ukraine.

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Kim arrived in the eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur on Friday ahead of an expected tour of a facility that makes fighter jets and other aircraft, AP said. Traffic was blocked at the station where Kim’s train stopped, and a convoy of vehicles thought to be carrying the North Korean leader could later be seen pulling away.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted an invitation from Kim to visit North Korea after the two met Wednesday at the Vostochny Cosmodrome space center in the Amur region to hold their first summit in four years. No date has been set for a visit that would be Putin’s first since 2000, when he met Kim Jong Il, the father of the current leader.

The two discussed issues of mutual interest, peace and security in the region and international justice in an “epoch-making” meeting, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency reported without providing details of any agreements.

Putin said North Korea was interested in Russian space rockets, and his country would potentially be willing to help it build satellites, according to RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned newswire.

The visit to the space facility underscored some of the items that may be on Kim Jong Un’s wish list in exchange for supplying munitions to Russia. Pyongyang has failed twice this year to deploy a spy satellite and could be seeking assistance from Moscow in putting one into orbit. Kim may also be seeking technology that would help his regime’s nuclear warheads survive the heat from reentry to the atmosphere.

Kim is next expected to go to Vladivostok on Saturday to inspect Russia’s Pacific fleet and meet military officials, Yonhap News Agency of South Korea reported. After that, he may head back home.

Prior to the trip, the New York Times reported Kim may be looking for help in building a nuclear-powered submarine. Before leaving for Moscow, he attended the launch ceremony for what North Korea billed as its first “tactical nuclear attack” submarine that experts believe has a diesel-electric power system.

South Korea’s military expressed doubts about the capabilities of the vessel. North Korea has one of the world’s largest sub fleets but most of its boats are small, old, relatively noisy and “designed to disrupt sea lanes, lay mines, attack surface vessels, and assist special operations units’ infiltration,” according to a white paper from South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

While Pyongyang and Moscow have denied US accusations of arms transfers, North Korea sits on some of the largest stockpiles of artillery and unguided rockets that could be used in the Soviet-era weaponry Russia is using to bombard Ukraine.

A South Korean presidential official said North Korean weapons have been used for a long time by Russia against Ukraine, Yonhap reported. US National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby told a briefing at the White House this week, “we obviously have concerns about any burgeoning defense relationship between North Korea and Russia.”

Seeking military aid from North Korea would mark a reversal for the two states. The Soviet Union was the biggest backer for Pyongyang after it was formed 75 years ago and supplied it with weapons that were essential in its invasion of South Korea at the start of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

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