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Leaders of North Korea and Russia may meet to discuss an arms deal

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will reportedly travel to Russia this month to meet President Vladimir Putin over a possible weapons deal. Closer ties could give the isolated North a more prominent international position, while Russia stands to gain help with its war effort in Ukraine. For more, let's turn to Lieutenant General In-Bum Chun. He's a former special forces commander for the Republic of Korea and senior fellow with the Association of the United States Army. Good morning, and thanks for being on the program.

IN-BUM CHUN: Good morning. Thank you for the invitation.

FADEL: So what is North Korea hoping it can get from Russia by strengthening this relationship?

CHUN: Mainly, I fear that the North Koreans are seeking high technology to improve their ICBM capabilities to be able to have a nuclear capability that can threaten the entire world.

FADEL: Now, the U.S. has warned North Korea that they would pay a high price if they provided weapons to Russia. Would a warning like that impact their decisions at all?

CHUN: Unfortunately not. The North Koreans know that the free world has public opinion to worry about. For them, they have no such worries, and they have nuclear weapons right now. So they will do what they need to do from their point of view. And all of this hard-line talking will not stop them.

FADEL: What is Russia hoping to get out of this?

CHUN: They will get some really good conventional weapons. The North Koreans are not stupid. They can make very good conventional weapons - rockets, antitank weapons. They don't make airplanes, but they really make good drones. If you notice, all those Iranian drones and North Korean drones look really similar. If they - you know, if it quacks like a duck, it is a duck. So the cooperation with the Iranians has given the North Koreans the ability to make these great platforms, as well. So there's a lot of conventional stuff that the Russians can get from the North Koreans.

FADEL: What does it say about Russia and its war in Ukraine that it's turning to North Korea for help?

CHUN: Well, I guess the Russians bit off a little bit more than they expected, and they're getting, you know, MREs - combat food - from the Chinese and now weapons from the North Koreans. And so they're in a situation where they're using every card that they have. And it has implications for everybody, especially those living on the Korean Peninsula.

FADEL: Now, you mentioned earlier that North Korea may get technical help with its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Is that the goal here? I mean, what is the ultimate goal with getting this type of help on North Korea's part?

CHUN: Well, if we dig in a little bit closer - deeper - the North Koreans want a first-strike, second-strike capability. And nuclear propulsion for their submarines is something that they've been trying to get. So that's one thing - reentry technology for their ICBMs, precision enhancement for their missiles, some sort of intelligence cooperation. But all of these are very difficult to track. So God knows what they will be getting.

FADEL: That's Lieutenant General In-Bum Chun. He's a former special forces commander for the Republic of Korea and senior fellow with the Association of the United States Army. He joined us by Skype. Thank you so much, General.

CHUN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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