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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defense Tops Putin's Seoul Talks

While President Vladimir Putin will bring pledges of support for South Korea's Kim Dae-jung this week, Putin's main message will be aimed at the man he still has yet to meet: George W. Bush.

Putin will be Kim's guest in Seoul from Monday to Wednesday, and the South Korean president's Nobel Peace Prize-winning efforts to create a rapprochement on the divided peninsula will be at the top of the agenda.

A thaw between the two Koreas could mean an economic bonanza for Russia, opening up new trade routes to the south and contracts to rebuild Soviet-era infrastructure in the north.

But above all for Moscow, bringing Pyongyang in from the cold would undermine one of the key arguments for U.S. national missile defense plans, which Russia opposes despite the Bush administration's vow to proceed with or without Russian consent.

Washington says the purpose of its $60 billion missile shield would be to guard U.S. territory from a strike by a "state of concern" — the State Department used to call them "rogue states" — like Iran, Iraq or North Korea.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov gave Russia's answer on Thursday, saying diplomacy was a more effective way to neutralize any North Korean threat than a new missile shield.

"If the actions of North Korea now give rise to concern, let's work together through diplomatic and political means to resolve the problem," Ivanov said. "A normalization of North Korea's relations with its neighbors would open the path toward removing concern."

Pyongyang jolted the West by test-firing a missile over Japan in 1998, and Washington has said it could be able to hit U.S. territory by the middle of this decade.

Moscow has savored a high-profile role in Korean peace efforts, boasting of strong enough ties to win real concessions from Pyongyang, its former Cold War-era client. (See Comment, Page 11.)

Putin won a feather in his cap last year by traveling to North Korea and gaining leader Kim Jong Il's offer to scrap his ballistic missile program in return for help exploring space — the purpose, Pyongyang had said, of its rockets.

Putin's talks in Seoul will also cover trade — first and foremost the huge Kovykta project to export natural gas to South Korea and China from Siberia, a venture joining Russian oil companies and Britain's BP Amoco.

South Korea is already an important market for Russian oil exports. A thaw on the peninsula could open passenger and freight railway links through the north, linking Seoul to Western Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

In an interview with Itar-Tass ahead of the visit, Kim revealed himself to be something of a Russophile, saying he had read through the works of Russia's great writers while in prison as an opponent of South Korea's military rulers.

"When people say 'Russia,' I immediately think of Russian literature," he said. "Reading Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev and many other writers, I thought: 'The Russian nation, which has such a great spiritual world, creating such literature and art — this is truly a great nation.'"