Russia-North Korea summit scheduled for next week

Kim Jong Un will hold his first summit with Vladimir Putin next week in Vladivostok, Russian media reported on Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 17 April 2019

Russia-North Korea summit scheduled for next week

  • Russia hosts thousands of North Korean laborers
  • Moscow continues ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other fuels, which are prohibited by sanctions

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in Vladivostok, Russian media reported on Wednesday.

His visit comes after he failed to persuade US President Donald Trump to ease sanctions on his regime in Hanoi at the end of February.

“The first meeting in eight years between the heads of the two countries is expected to be held in Vladivostok before the departure of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing for the One Belt and One Road Summit on April 26-27,” the daily newspaper Izvestiya reported, citing “an informed source at the Russian Foreign Ministry.”

“The main thing to be discussed by the heads of the two countries is the whole complex of bilateral relations and the development of economic relations in the context of sanctions,” it said, adding that Putin was expected to advocate the need for partial sanctions against North Korea.

Media outlets in South Korea anticipated that the Kim-Putin summit would take place on either April 23 or 24.

Analysts say Kim’s pivot to Russia is a way to withstand ongoing sanctions.

“For Kim, a summit with Putin is a good chance to breathe fresh life into the North’s economic hardship without the relief of US-led sanctions,” Kim Dong-yeop, a professor at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies of Kyungnam University, told Arab News. “Kim is expected to focus more on the matters of mutual economic cooperation with Russia in the fields of energy and trade than on the issue of US sanctions. If it succeeds, Kim could buy time before a sanctions’ lifting by the US.”

Earlier this month in a speech to the North’s rubber-stamp Parliament, Kim made it clear he would not fixate on a Trump summit “with a thirst for easing sanctions,” although he said he was open to a possible third meeting with the US leader.

The Vladivostok meeting signals the North’s efforts to diversify its diplomacy away from dependency on its traditional ally China, said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum think tank in Seoul.

“Pyongyang-Beijing relations are changing, with China’s influence on North Korea apparently dwindling in the aftermath of its unsuccessful trade war with Washington,” Shin told Arab News. “Russia is in a different position, however, as it confronts the US diplomatically and militarily. North Korea wants to use the confrontational relationship as a lever to resist US pressure and evade sanctions.”

Russia hosts thousands of North Korean laborers, an important source of income for the cash-strapped regime. A report from the UN Panel of Experts, which supervises sanctions implementation, alleged that Russia was continuing ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other fuels, which are prohibited by sanctions.

The US dispatched its envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, to Moscow on Wednesday.

The US State Department says Biegun will stay in the capital until Thursday for talks with his Russian counterparts over the final and fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.  

“The US government would have intelligence about the Russia-North Korea summit,” Shin said. “Biegun is expected to play as a stopper to block Russia’s diplomatic maneuvers with North Korea ahead of the summit.”

News of the Putin-Kim summit comes as fresh analysis of US satellite imagery suggests there may be renewed activity at the North’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, new photographs taken on April 12 show five specialized rail cars at a part of the complex near a uranium enrichment facility and radiochemistry laboratory.

Experts believe they indicate reprocessing activity is about to or has taken place, a step in the production of fissile material for nuclear bombs.

France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 13 min 22 sec ago

France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.