US says Russia could be discussing help for North Korea missile development

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Discussions between Russia and North Korea about what Pyongyang gets in return for weapons supplies to Moscow could relate to North Korea's nuclear long-range missile development, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said on Monday.

Campbell also told an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank that China is probably worried that Pyongyang will be encouraged by Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to North Korea last week to take "provocative" steps that could lead to a crisis in Northeast Asia.

Campbell said China, Iran and North Korea had increased security cooperation with Russia, and China and North Korea had done the most to support reconstitution of Russia's defense industrial base after its invasion of Ukraine.

"In return, Russia is supporting advances in the military programs of all three of these partners," Campbell said.

"There are limits to these partnerships, but they cannot be ignored," he said, and repeated U.S. charges that North Korea was providing Russia with artillery shells, long-range missiles and other capabilities.

"We believe that there are discussions about what North Korea gets in exchange, and they could be associated with its nuclear or long-range missile-development plans, perhaps other things in energy and the like."

On Thursday, Putin said Russia might supply weapons to North Korea in what he suggested would be a mirror response to Western arming of Ukraine.

Campbell said the U.S. believed China and Russia were in a "deep strategic partnership" although there were tensions between them in the Arctic, Central Asia and now on North Korea.

"I think it is fair to say that China is somewhat anxious about what's going on between Russia and North Korea. They have indicated so in some of our interactions, and we can see some tension associated with those things."

"China is probably worried that North Korea will be somehow encouraged to take provocative steps that could lead to a crisis in Northeast Asia," Campbell said, and noted activity, including brief exchanges of fire on the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea.

"A resurgence of tension" was likely in the future between Moscow and Beijing, Campbell said, "but it's impossible to predict what that situation looks like in decades."

"Right now, that alignment is powerful. It's sustaining and it's had a huge impact on the battlefields of Europe."

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina; Editing by Rod Nickel)