A South Korean lawmaker's aide says Seoul's spy agency sees signs that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is preparing to visit Russia.
The aide to Rep. Choi Jae-sung said Friday that the National Intelligence Service has told lawmakers that Kim may soon make his first visit to Russia since 2002. The aide says the intelligence official provided few other details.
The aide declined to be named because a parliamentary briefing by the agency was still under way. The agency declined to confirm the possible trip.
North Korea said last week that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a letter calling for greater energy cooperation among Russia and the two Koreas, saying it would enhance regional security.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited a government source as saying that Kim was likely to depart Saturday morning for Russia and that the information appeared to be based on intelligence analysis.
It also quoted a separate source, which it described as dealing with North Korean affairs, as saying that Kim is expected to depart Saturday morning by train for the Russian city of Vladivostok, which is located in the country's Far East region near North Korea.
South Korea's presidential office, the NIS and Unification Ministry _ which handles relations with North Korea _ all said they could not confirm the report.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said it had no comment on a possible Kim visit.
Kim visited China in May for the third visit to his country's closest ally in just over a year. Many saw that as an attempt to secure aid, investment and support for his dynastic transfer of power to his third son, Kim Jong Un.
Russia and North Korea maintain cordial ties, though they are not as close as they were in the days before the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had provided significant aid and support to Pyongyang. Moscow is a member of six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
Separately, Russia's Foreign Ministry announced that the country has decided to provide North Korea with 50,000 metric tons of grain as humanitarian assistance and that the first shipment arrived Friday.
"We consider this humanitarian action as a contribution to strengthening traditional good-neighborly ties between our peoples," the ministry said in a statement.
North Korea's state news agency also reported that provision, and said that additional food valued at $5 million and donated by Russia via the World Food Program "is also being provided."
The report described the aid as a "manifestation of the traditional relations of friendship and cooperation between the governments and peoples of the two countries."
North Korea regularly suffers food shortages. The country has said recent heavy rains are likely to harm this year's harvest because of extensive damage to farmland as a result of flooding.
Associated Press writers Kelly Olsen in Seoul and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.