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Kim, Putin head back to the future

Kim and Putin talks
Kim and Putin described their talks as an important boost to world peace  


MOSCOW, Russia -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has toured Russia's space science facilities, a day after holding summit talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kim visited the Khrunicheve State Space Centre outside Moscow on Sunday where he was shown a full-size replica of the Mir orbital space station.

The visit is Kim's first to Russia and his third trip abroad since he took power after his father and president, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994.

Kim confirmed on Saturday his country intends to observe the moratorium on long-range missile testing until 2003.

Two years ago, North Korea agreed with the United States to stop testing long-range missiles until 2003 in exchange for Washington lifting some economic sanctions on North Korea.

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Saturday's announcement was made by the deputy head of the Putin administration, Sergei Prikhodko.

It followed the signing in Moscow of a memorandum between Russia and North Korea. Both sides reaffirmed the importance of the 1972 ABM treaty, which the U.S. is currently trying to amend in order to proceed with testing of a missile defence system.

The Kremlin aide said negotiations also touched on the issues of strategic stability, trade and economic issues and international issues.

According to The Associated Press, the CIA believes North Korea has the capability to make a long-range missile that can reach the western edge of the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska.

Both Kim and Putin hailed Saturday's talks as a success and an "historic landmark" in boosting world peace.

South Korea welcomed a joint statement by Kim and Putin, saying it helped unblock relations between the two Koreas.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters on Sunday: "We think the two countries' summit talk will have a positive effect (in overcoming the impasse in relations between the two Koreas)."

Pyongyang's test-firing of its Taepodong missile in 1998 sent alarm bells ringing around the region amid fears that North Korea was developing a long-range strike capability that could ultimately target they U.S.

North Korea insists that the Taepodong missile has peaceful purposes and is designed as a satellite launch vehicle -- a position which was reiterated in the joint statement.

"North Korea asserts that its missile program is peaceful in nature and does not present a threat to any nation respecting North Korea's sovereignty," the joint statement said.

The so-called Moscow Declaration signed by Putin and Kim gave no indication whether North Korea was willing to reopen talks with Washington anytime soon, and instead repeated Pyongyang's demand that the U.S. withdraw its troops from South Korea.

U.S. President George W. Bush offered to resume talks with Pyongyang in June, but the North Korean leadership has not given any formal response to the offer.

Relations between the U.S. and North Korea peaked towards the end of the Clinton administration with an historic visit by then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

But the warming of ties was put on hold when Bush took the presidency at the start of the year.

Kim is scheduled to leave for St. Petersburg later on Sunday for a two-day stay there.






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