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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK
Kim takes slow route to Moscow
Kim and Putin shake hands
Kim Jong-il greeting Mr Putin in Pyongyang last year
North Korea's secretive communist leader, Kim Jong-il, has crossed into Russia on the first stage of a visit to the country that will culminate in talks with President Vladimir Putin.

North Koreans wave flowers and flags
Mr Putin had a warm reception last year
Mr Kim, who is reported to have a fear of flying, entered Russian territory by train early on Thursday morning en route for Vladivostock.

It is believed to be only the second time he has left North Korea since becoming leader on the death of his father.

Mr Kim and President Putin are expected to discuss American plans for a missile defence shield which Washington says is needed for protection against what it calls 'rogue states' such as North Korea.

No quick meeting

"On the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Chairman of the Defence Committee of the Korean People's Democratic Republic, Kim Jong-il, is arriving to Russia on an official visit," Russian news agencies quoted the Kremlin as saying.

Kim Jong-ll
Kim Jong-il: Only his second foreign trip as leader
But it will be some time before the two men meet up.

Mr Kim is now expected to continue his journey to Moscow by rail, along some 9,288km (5,758 miles) of track, arriving in the Russian capital on 4 August for two days of talks.

Last year the North Korean leader visited China by train, a trip that remained secret until after his return home.

This will not be the first time Mr Kim and Mr Putin have met as leaders.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans were said to have greeted Mr Putin in the capital Pyongyang when he became the first Russian leader to visit North Korea last year.

The two men are expected to discuss military co-operation and improved transport links, as well as the American missile defence shield.

Relations between Russia and North Korea have improved since Mr Putin became Russian president.

Correspondents say Mr Putin has worked as a link between North Korea and western countries, as well as encouraging the thaw in relations between North and South Korea.

Dr Keith Howard, Senior lecturer of Korean studies
says that North Korea feels that Russia can help it
The BBC's Louis Hau
"Mr Putin and Mr Kim are expected to hold talks on a variety of issues"
See also:

18 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Russia-China attack US missile plan
19 Jul 00 | Media reports
Russian press upbeat over Beijing
17 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Shared aims at Beijing summit
12 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea: A military threat?
26 Apr 00 | Europe
Russia resists US missile plan
28 Mar 00 | Europe
Putin's foreign policy riddle
19 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: North Korea sets its price
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