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North Korean Leader on Long Journey to Moscow - 2001-07-28

North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il is making his way to Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss various issues, including controversial military programs. Russian officials are getting ready for Mr. Kim's arrival, and they have plenty of time.

Russian Foreign Ministry officials say North Korea's military development program will be on the agenda of talks between Mr. Kim and President Putin.

But ministry spokesman Sergei Prikhodko says Russia will not insist that Pyongyang suspend work on its development of missiles, as the United States and other countries have asked.

Mr. Prikhodko told the Interfax News Agency North Korea must be given a viable alternative, if it is to stop developing missiles, which the U.S. believes pose great danger to the rest of the world.

Kim Jong-Il is not expected to arrive in Moscow for about a week, because he is traveling across Russia's vast territory by train, on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The reclusive leader chose to come by train. Like his late father, Kim Il-Sung, he has never been known to take a plane flight.

Also like his father, Mr. Kim rarely travels abroad. Since becoming North Korea leader, he has only visited China twice, with both trips shrouded in secrecy.

Mr. Kim's visit to Moscow is a reciprocal gesture to the visit President Putin made to Pyongyang last year, an event which led to increased diplomatic contact between North Korea and the rest of the world.

During that meeting, Mr. Kim said he would suspend North Korea's missile program, if other countries helped his country launch rockets into space.

That pledge led to a flurry of diplomatic activity, including talks between the U.S. and North Korea, talks which were later suspended.

It was also never clear whether the North Korean leader was sincere in his statement about halting missile development.

On Friday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. was ready to resume dialogue with North Korea, without any preconditions.

However, North Korea is still one of the states the U.S. calls a "rogue state," which Washington says poses a threat to its neighbors in Asia, as well as the United States. Bush administration officials frequently cite that threat to justify developing an anti-missile defense program, a plan which Russia, China and other countries oppose.