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Russia seeks N.K. guarantee on gas pipe

Envoy: First economic multilateral deal with Pyongyang could benefit all

North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-il is visiting Russia this week for the first time since 2002 hoping to score political, economic and diplomatic support for several key projects.

On the Russian front, the conditions were made clear for any future collaboration that would include a gas pipeline running from the Sakhalin Island with Vladivostok, North Korea and ending in South Korea; an inter-Korean railway line that would connect to the trans-Siberian railway, and a unified energy system.

“We need political conditions (from North Korea) in the form of the six-party talks at its earliest resumption,” said Russian Ambassador Konstantin Vnukov to The Korea Herald.

“Nothing can move ahead without this,” he added.
Russian Ambassador Konstantin Vnukov (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
Russian Ambassador Konstantin Vnukov (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

Initial deal

The road to these new positive developments between North Korea and other members of the six-party talks ― China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States ― started earlier this year when Russia brokered a deal that would have North Korea rejoin the six-party talks, the discussion for the possible removal of sanctions from the United National Security Council and the possible signing and implementation of a peace treaty that would replace the current armistice agreement that was signed at the end of the Korean War in 1953.

“They also agreed to include the uranium enrichment programs issue in the agenda of the six-party talks, and, at the same time, we put forward our demands which were imposing a moratorium on nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches and letting IAEI (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors return to visit the nuclear center in Yongbyon,” added the ambassador.

The benefits would include a gas pipeline that would help fuel both South and North Korea and a railway system that would make the delivery of goods from South Korea three times as fast.

Russia’s conditions

“But we need two conditions. First the creation of the necessary political conditions linked to the six-party talks and inter-Korean talks,” he said.

“Next, would be working out guarantees for judiciary obligations at the government level. Without this it would be impossible to invest money in this huge project.

“We believe that all these projects could be very important and profitable for all three parties, especially in economic terms,” Vnukov added.

A gas pipeline would drastically cut delivery costs in comparison to the current method of delivery by ships.

“Our delivery of liquid gas from Sakhalin to South Korea with the amount of 1.5 million tons annually is more efficient and attractive for South Korea than from the Middle East and Southeast Asia because of the shorter distance and from the point of view of security,” Vnukov said.

Agreements have been signed between Russia and South Korea that would increase the delivery of natural gas from Sakhalin to 17 billion cubic meters by the end of 2017.

Furthermore, the deal makes it possible to increase that number, if need be, to 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas by 2020.

“Gasprom is negotiating with North and South Korea and luckily, the two sides have shown interest and we received general support of this idea so now we have to work out the details,” he said. 

Deal also important to Russia

The deal is equally important to Russia due to its development of its Far East region.

The Russian authorities are working on a Trans-Siberian railway project that would see cargo and passengers transported in seven days from the Far East to western Russia, and subsequently Europe.

“This is not a theoretical task, we have a huge strategy for the economic development of the Russian Far East and Siberia so without a calm and stable situation on the peninsula, it’s rather difficult to establish these goals,” noted Vnukov.

But Russia is first seeking judiciary obligations from the North and guarantees that the secretive regime will not halt the flow of gas from Russia into South.

By Yoav Cerralbo (