North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is in Russian claiming he is ready to limit nuclear arms testing and production "without pre-conditions."
That is if international six-party talks on aid-for disarmament talks resume, which North Korea walked out of three years ago.
Kim's pledge came out of the summit with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev at a military base in a Siberian town near Lake Baikal.
The two also agreed to move forward on an idea of laying pipeline across North Korea so that Russia could ship and export natural gas to South Korea.
How significant is this pledge of suspending nuclear weapons program?
North Korea has repeatedly broken promises in the past, so actually halting the nuclear program which they have been holding onto as their lifeline and powerful source of threats would be very unlikely.
So far, North Korea has been saying they are ready to come back to the six-party talks, although they were the ones who walked out of discussions with the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia in 2008.
Much has taken place since then that basically left little chance of moving forward in the talks. The international community has been pressuring the North with sanctions pushing the already frail economy to a devastated economy. North Korea has sunk a South Korean navy boat and fired artillery onto a South Korean island killing dozens. So at the moment, the U.S., Korea and Japan have been demanding that Kim Jong Il apologize for the atrocities before any talks resume.
Kim's pledge to limit or stop its weapons program is new offer on North Korea's part. But this rare trip to Russia is more of a public relations exercise. Kim has been to China three times last year whereas the last visit to its other ally Russia was nine years ago. So it's more of a balance gesture since he is in desperate need to extract more aid. North Korean economy is in big trouble after the South Korean government halted the influx of both official and unofficial aid to the North, whose food production has also been hurt by floods.
Kim needs whatever financial help he could get to sustain power in his country, especially after he had promised the people of a strong, powerful, and affluent nation by next year.
Russia offered 50,000 tonnes of grain to its impoverished neighbor to be sent by the end of next month.
There are reports of his peculiar style of traveling?
Kim only travels by train. He reportedly has never been on a plane. For this trip, he took his armored train with an entourage of senior officials. Crossing the border into Russia's Far East, his week-long Trans-Siberian journey was, in his words a "very fun" trip. He swam in a pool filled with the water from the famed Lake Baikal, went boating on the lake, tried local fish, and visited a hydro-power plant.
The North Korean leader was expected to begin his return journey later Wednesday
Kim is rarely seen. How did he look? Any signs of deteriorating health as rumored?
During the first couple of days, Kim looked vibrant and seemed to have recovered from his suspected stroke several years ago. He was spotted using left hand to hold a tray and even to sign the visitor's book at the hydro plant, which many analysts in Seoul say is meant to demonstrate to the world that he is fit and strong. He had not been able to move his left arm last year.
Analysts also agreed that Kim appears to have gained weight which suggests visible recovery.
But when he arrived at the summit, he looked frail. Reports show that the younger Russian president had to support the 69-year-old's elbow when shaking hands as Kim showed signs of fatigue. He was also spotted needing help using the stairs.
Will the pipeline project be something valuable to North Korea?
The idea has been around for years. The industrial and prospering South Korea needs additional gas supply and a cost effective way to transfer Russian energy. Russia wants to export, of course, and want to open new markets like South Korea and beyond to Japan as well. Geographically, North Korea sits right in the middle and would be able to collect huge fees for the gas traveling through its territory to South Korea and possibly to Japan.
Although the idea was economically attractive, it was not pursued because it is subject to political risk. The South is wary of North Korean influence and leverage over the supply; the North did not want to help its powerhouse archenemy to the south by facilitating gas shipment.
But Kim and Medvedev announced that the two countries will create a special commission. We don't know the details of the deal, but the pipeline will be 700-miles long and two-thirds of that would go right through North Korea.