Russian foreign minister meets Kim Jong Un, calls for lifting of sanctions

Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose during a meeting in Pyongyang, Thursday, May 31, 2018.

(CNN)Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a trip to Pyongyang Thursday, as Moscow steps up efforts to increase its influence in the region ahead of proposed talks between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho, Lavrov called for the phased lifting of sanctions on North Korea, suggesting that denuclearization would only be achievable if sanctions were scaled back.
"As we start discussions on how to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula, it is understood that the solution cannot be comprehensive without the lifting of sanctions," Lavrov said according to state news agency Sputnik.
    Lavrov's comments are likely to be met with frustration in Washington, where efforts are underway to convince North Korea to begin the process of nuclear disarmament ahead of the on-again off-again summit, tentatively scheduled for June 12.
    The Trump administration has long maintained that the lifting of sanctions is dependent on the North's willingness to begin the process of full denuclearization. The success of the policy, known as the "maximum pressure campaign" remains dependent on the support of the international community, including Russia.
    On Wednesday, Senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York, their third meeting this year, as the two sides attempt to finalize their summit preconditions.
    Lavrov said he welcomed increasing contact between North Korea, South Korea and the United States and added that Russia had a "common understanding with the North Korean side about the need to take the utmost care about what is happening now in terms of establishing contacts, normalizing relations between the two Koreas, between the DPRK and the United States, and avoiding the temptation to demand 'everything at once.'"
    However he cautioned against making "sudden moves, to artificially speed the process, which requires a considerable amount of time and a more detailed alignment of all components of the package."
    Asked if he was concerned that Trump or the next US president might renege on a deal, Lavrov said: "I am sure that the North Korean side knows perfectly well the history of recent years and, of course, will determine its position taking into account all factors."

    Old allies

    On Thursday during his visit to Pyongyang, Lavrov laid a floral tribute before the statues of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il. The long-time Russian foreign minister has been to the North Korean capital before, including in 2009 during an earlier round of negotiations on North Korean disarmament. It's not known whether Lavrov's meeting with Kim J