Kim Jong Un arrives in Russia ahead of summit with Putin

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Vladivostok, Russia (CNN)North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has arrived in Russia ahead of his planned summit with Vladimir Putin, Russian state news agency TASS reported Wednesday.

Kim and Putin are set to meet for the first time in the eastern port city of Vladivostok Thursday, but do not plan to sign any agreements or make a joint statement.

The young North Korean leader left the capital of Pyongyang on Wednesday at dawn and is traveling to Russia by train, North Korean state news agency KCNA reported, as he did for his summit with US President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam. The journey from the train station in Khasan, near the North Korean border, to Vladivostok is expected to take about nine hours, according to TASS.

After entering Russia, Kim stopped at the Khasan station where was presented with flowers as well as bread and salt — a Russian tradition for welcoming guests — local lawmaker Natalia Karpova told TASS.

Kim’s train will likely pass through a single-track railway along the borders of the “Land of the Leopard” National Park to a station in the city of Ussuriysk, TASS reported. That 260 kilometer-journey (162 miles) is expected to take about seven hours.

From Ussuriysk, the train is likely to link up to the Trans-Siberian Railway leading to Vladivostok. That portion of the journey is about 70 kilometers (43 miles) and expected to take two hours, according to TASS.

Timing of talks significant

Kim’s visit to North Korea’s northern neighbor comes amid an impasse in the nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. Trump and Kim’s Hanoi meeting ended early without an agreement, with the two sides seemingly far apart on how to trade sanctions relief for meaningful steps toward denuclearization.

A State Department spokesperson said the United States is aware of the reports that Kim has left for Russia.

“The United States and the international community is committed to the same goal — the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea. It is Chairman Kim’s commitment to denuclearization upon which the world is focused.”

Though the White House expressed optimism that things were left on good terms after Hanoi, North Korean officials have been less sanguine in public. Diplomats from Pyongyang havespeculated about suspending talks with the United States and called for Trump to replace US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with someone “who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”

Kim himself said there could be repercussions if talks continue to stall during a meeting of North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament earlier this month.

He said the country needed to “deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring (North Korea) to its knees,” according to state media reports.

Joining Kim on the trip is the recently promoted Choe Son Hui, one of Pyongyang’s more experienced diplomats who is heavily involved in talks with the United States. NK News, a prominent website specializing in North Korean news, reported that Choe’s promotion makes her the highest-ranking female diplomat in the country’s history.

Analysts have speculated that Kim’s meeting with Putin could be a way for the young North Korean leader to assess his diplomatic options outside talks with the United States.

North Korea may hope for Russian support in pressuring Washington over sanctions relief, which continues to be a major sticking issue in talks between the two sides. The Trump administration has said sanctions will only be lifted after North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang also may be seeking to lessen its economic reliance on Beijing, North Korea’s only significant trading partner. Former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung was notorious for playing China and the Soviet Union off each other in order to maximize foreign investment.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Chandler Thornton contributed to this report.

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