Medvedev, Kim Jong-il agree to create commission on gas transit

ULAN UDE, August 24 (Itar-Tass) — President Dmitry Medvedev said he had agreed with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to create a tripartite commission for gas transit to South Korea via the DPRK.

Medvedev said, “We achieved certain results on gas cooperation. In particular, a decision has been taken to create a special commission for gas transit to the Republic of Korea via the territory of the DPRK.”

“The DPRK seeks to realise this project,” the Russian president stressed. At the same time, he pointed out that the gas pipeline of 1,100 km long was planning to be built.

“This year it will be possible to transport up to 10 billion cubic metres of gas by this pipeline. If there is demand, we are ready to increase our supplies,” Medvedev said.

“We instructed our agencies to create a special commission in order to determine concrete parameters of gas cooperation via the territory of the DPRK and involve South Korea in this project due to the fact that main consumers are deployed on its territory,” the Russian president said.

He noted, “The DPRK seeks to realise such tripartite project with the participation of Russia and South Korea. Now we are starting a technical work.” “Some time ago the Gazprom delegation led by the deputy head of the board visited the DPRK. Yesterday I instructed [the company’s head Alexei] Miller to deal with this problem. We’ll hope that there will be a good project,” Medvedev said.

A delegation from Russia’s Gazprom gas giant visited North Korea last week, for the latest in a sudden flurry of mysterious contacts between Moscow and the isolated state, the company said.

The Gazprom team was headed by deputy managing chairman Alexander Ananenkov, who met with North Korea’s oil minister to discuss “outstanding issues of cooperation in the energy sphere,” the Russian company said.

The construction of a gas pipeline between Russia and South Korea via the DPRK will guarantee the restoration and strengthening of trust between Seoul and Pyongyang, said Georgy Toloraya, director of research programmes at the Centre for Modern Korean Studies, Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

Commenting on a visit to Russia by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Toloraya said, “The upcoming talks between the Russian and North Korean leaders are important. The six-party consultations may resume. North Koreans said they were ready to resume negotiations and discus the nuclear programme. It will be more difficult to ignore a signal that Kim Jong-il will give to the international community with the aid of Dmitry Medvedev.”

“If Russia supports the initiative [on resuming the six-party talks] and guarantees that North Koreans seek to discuss this problem, it will be more difficult for Seoul and Washington to scuttle the dialogue,” the Russian expert said.

Economic projects, such as the construction of a gas pipeline between Russia and South Korea via the DPRK, the linking up of the Trans-Korean railway with the Trans-Siberian mainline and the construction of a power transmission line from the Far East to the Republic of Korea, can be very significant in relations between the two countries. “This issue is being actively finalised. Gazprom’ s project has been approved by North Korea. Pyongyang is also ready to take part in the project jointly with South Koreans despite difficult relations. Now Gazprom intends to inform Seoul about this. South Koreans agree in word although they voice concerns over North Korea’s possible dependence, including illegal gas extraction and blackmail,” he said.

At the same time, he said, “The pipeline will guarantee the restoration and strengthening of trust between the North and the South. The economic development of North Korea will become one more argument for stopping the nuclear programme.”

“Whether North Koreans fail the dialogue with the South and the United States, the talks between Dmitry Medvedev and Kim Jong-il are an important foreign political event. Russia can play a positive role in overcoming the crisis,” the expert said.

The world’s largest natural gas producer has been keen to expand its Asian sales and has been supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG) to booming South Korean market since the Sakhalin-2 project went online in the Pacific in 2009.

But most of the Sakhalin-2 gas is sent directly to Japan and Gazprom has struggled to come up with a cost-effective strategy of improving its South Korean presence because of the diplomatic isolation of the North.

Gazprom made no mention of when another meeting with North Korean officials might take place.

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