Putin declares North Korea winner in latest standoff with South Korea, US

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had emerged victorious in the latest standoff with South Korea and United States over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

In a meeting with Russian journalists, Putin said that Kim was “shrewd and mature” in his handling of escalated tensions with Seoul and Washington, and was now looking to ease hostilities, according to a Reuters report.

“I believe, Mr. Kim Jong Un has certainly won this round,” Putin said, according to the Kremlin-financed news outlet RT.

Putin’s comments came two days after North Korea agreed to send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics, which are set to take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February.

The announcement came as the result of talks with South Korean negotiators – the first between the two countries in years.

In a New Year’s Day speech this month, Kim declared that North Korea had acquired nuclear weapons capable of striking the mainland U.S. and said that the international community would have to accept the isolated nation as a nuclear-armed state.

But in that same speech, he called for an immediate dialogue with South Korea and said that he was willing to send athletes to the Winter Games.

The U.S. and South Korea have stepped up an international pressure campaign against North Korea in recent months in an effort to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The North, however, has refused to do so, arguing that its development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles is necessary to deter a potential attack by the U.S.