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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kim Dips Hand in Baikal on Rail Tour

IRKUTSK, Eastern Siberia — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, slowly wending his way across Russia, played tourist briefly Sunday, stepping off his train for a look at vast Lake Baikal, one of Siberia's natural wonders.

Kim briefly got off at the lakeside town of Slyudyanka and touched the water, before resuming his journey to Moscow for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin set for Aug. 4-5, Interfax reported, quoting regional railroad officials.

Baikal's clear waters are a mile deep in places, and the lake contains some 20 percent of the world's unfrozen fresh water.

Later, when the train stopped at Irkutsk, 4,200 kilometers southeast of Moscow, to change engines and crews, the reclusive Kim did not emerge from his private train, which is surrounded by rifle-toting Russian security agents whenever it stops.

At an earlier stop in Ulan-Ude, Kim also failed to emerge and greet local officials who had planned to present him with a ribbon of honor and other gifts, Itar-Tass said.

Kim, who is said to dislike flying, took the train to make only his third foreign visit as leader of North Korea. His two previous trips to China were surrounded by secrecy, and one was not even announced until he had returned.

The Russia trip is no exception, with the 59-year-old Kim appearing in public once, shortly after crossing the border last Thursday when he was greeted by officials and a woman who as a girl greeted his father and predecessor as leader, Kim Il Sung, on a trip to the Soviet Union 13 years ago.

Igor Kolomiyets, the press secretary for the Kremlin regional administration, said Kim insisted on going by the famed Trans-Siberian Railway because he wanted to see the broad expanse of Russia.

"This visit will be recorded in the Guinness Book of Records because it will be the longest [train] trip ever undertaken by a head of state, from Korea to St. Petersburg and back," he said.

"The negotiations in Moscow will include discussion about the construction of a railway to Korea," Kolomiyets said. "They wanted to see what the Trans-Siberian route is like."

Kim's 21-car train crossed into Russia early Thursday for the 10-day trip to Moscow. His next announced stop was to be Omsk, where local officials were planning to entertain him with a military band, a folk ensemble and a visit to a local factory, according to Igor Spiridonov, a spokesman for the Omsk regional government.

Once he gets to Moscow, Kim and Putin will sign a joint declaration stating their shared outlook on world affairs, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said Saturday.

The declaration will build on one signed by Putin and Kim during the Russian president's high-profile visit to North Korea last year, Losyukov said.

The statement would reflect "Moscow and Pyongyang's views on the international outlook for development of bilateral relations and approaches to key international issues," Losyukov was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Losyukov said discussions might include the two countries' shared opposition to U.S. plans for a national missile defense system.

Russian officials have played down U.S. concerns that North Korea poses a potential nuclear threat — worries cited by the United States in support of its plans to build the missile defense system.

Losyukov said he doubted that North Korea's missile program would be on the official agenda for the talks, but said the topic could be covered in the discussion of strategic stability. "We believe that this issue is a matter for U.S.-Korean relations," Losyukov said, adding that Moscow would welcome a resumption of dialogue between the United States and North Korea.