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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Russia talks missiles in North Korea
Kim and Putin shake hands
Kim Jong-il greets the Russian president at the airport
Russian President Vladimir Putin has begun an unprecedented visit to North Korea which is likely to be dominated by trade issues and the planned UN missile defence shield.

Mr Putin - the first Russian leader to visit the country - was met by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in the capital, Pyongyang.

North Koreans wave flowers and flags
A lavish welcome ceremony was laid on for Mr Putin
Hundreds of thousands of people were reported to have turned out in the city to greet President Putin.

The two leaders are expected to hold talks aimed at reviving relations between them which has floundered since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Opposition to US plans for an anti-missile shield is likely to be high on the agenda during the two-day visit.


We have a shared border, we have a vital interest in establishing peace and concord in this region because this has a direct effect on Russia

Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin has said he will do all he can to ease tension between North and South Korea and bring Pyongyang out of its political isolation.

The leaders of North and South Korea held a historic meeting last month.

The Russian president arrived from China, where he and Chinese President Jiang Zemin attacked the proposed National Missile Defence (NMD) shield.

N Korean military parade
Pyongyang's military ambitions have raised international concern
North Korea's missile capacity is cited by the US as a major reason for its need to build the system.

Mr Putin, seeking to strengthen international opposition to the scheme, is thought likely to try to undermine the US position by persuading North Korea to agree to arms reduction talks.

A BBC correspondent says Moscow also wants to bolster its influence in the region, and that Mr Putin is trying to raise his profile before this weekend's G8 summit meeting in Japan.

Concession

Analysts disagree on what Mr Putin's precise strategy will be on the issue of North Korea's missile programme.

Kim Jong-ll
North Korea's Kim Jong-il could face pressure on missiles
There is some speculation that he could try to win a concession from Pyongyang, possibly a commitment not to develop long-range ballistic missiles.

But other observers believe the Russian president will not want to push the North Koreans too hard, and predict that a push for international talks is a more likely strategy.

Also on the agenda will be economic relations; Russian exports to North Korea stood at just $75m in 1999 and imports at $25m.

Russia's Trade Ministry said it hoped for good trade ties with its "historic and traditional partner".

Russia's lower house of parliament plans to mark Mr Putin's visit by ratifying a friendship agreement signed in February to replace a Soviet-era pact.

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See also:

18 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Russia-China attack US missile plan
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
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