• Russia shields N.Korea from criticism, eyes joint projects


    MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday attacked a landmark UN resolution that condemns North Korea’s human rights record and pledged to ramp up economic ties with the Stalinist regime.

    Russia this week rolled out a red carpet for a top envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, with President Vladimir Putin receiving the high-ranking official in the Kremlin on Tuesday.

    Choe Ryong-Hae’s week-long visit to Russia came as North Korea is seeking to rally support after a United Nations resolution condemning its rights abuses put the regime under unprecedented pressure.

    Russia, keen to promote itself as a negotiator capable of dealing with so-called pariah regimes, is itself facing pressure from the United States and the European Union over its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

    Speaking after talks with Choe on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United Nations should not be turned into “judicial or prosecution bodies.”

    “It is counter-productive to try to make some loud statements through confrontational resolutions at the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council,” said Lavrov.

    Co-sponsored by more than 60 countries, the UN resolution drew heavily on the work of a UN inquiry which concluded in a 400-page report released in February that North Korea was committing human rights abuses “without parallel in the contemporary world.”

    Rights violations by North Korea have been known about for years, but the inquiry’s exhaustive report carried the UN stamp of authority.

    Together with China, Russia on Tuesday voted against the resolution laying the groundwork for putting the Pyongyang regime in the dock for crimes against humanity.

    The non-binding measure will go to the full General Assembly for a vote next month.

    North Korea reacted angrily to the vote and announced that it was breaking off talks on improving human rights with the European Union.

    Pyongyang accused the United States of leading efforts to humiliate the regime and threatened to conduct a fresh nuclear test.

    New satellite imagery has also emerged, suggesting North Korea may be firing up a facility for processing weapons-grade plutonium.

    Lavrov shrugged off reports that the isolated regime may be preparing bomb material, saying all such statements should be based on firm facts.

    Choe, who did not address reporters after the talks, praised his Tuesday meeting with Putin as “substantial and landmark,” expressing hope that the two nations — and Putin and Kim — would strengthen ties.

    “I had the honour of having a meeting with President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and passing him a personal message from the respected comrade Kim Jong-Un,” Choe said at the start of talks with Lavrov.

    “I am especially happy to visit Russia at a time when there have been unprecedented successes and constructive measures in Russian-Korean ties,” he said, without elaborating.

    Russia is seeking to expand economic ties with North Korea and is eyeing a project worth about $25 billion (20 billion euros) to overhaul the Stalinist country’s railway network in return for access to mineral resources.

    Lavrov said after Thursday’s talks that the two countries, which share a border, were keen to link the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Korean railway networks.

    He said North Korea expressed readiness to participate in tri-lateral energy projects that would also involve South Korea.

    “Investors from South Korea, China and Mongolia also intend to join these projects,” Lavrov said.

    “Our trade and economic ties are entering a new level.”

    Choe is also set to visit far eastern Russia.

    In 2011, Moscow received Kim’s late father, Kim Jong-Il, who traveled to Russia for his first visit in nearly a decade in his armoured train.

    Raging tensions with the West have pushed Russia to seek closer ties with Asia, with Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping promising ever-closer cooperation earlier this month.



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