South and North Korean officials visit Moscow simultaneously
The project to pipe Siberian gas through North Korea to South Korea, which is expected to be economically beneficial for all three countries, is shaping up as South and North Korean officials visit Moscow for working-level talks.
Construction of the initial segment of the transnational pipeline from Sakhalin to Vladivostok was completed last Thursday. President Lee Myung-bak said in a televised talk show that evening that the envisioned project “could proceed faster than expected.”
Lee also mentioned that he has kept the document on a 1989 preliminary deal between the Soviet Union and Hyundai Engineering and Construction, of which Lee was then president, on piping gas to Vladivostok for transport to South Korea by land or sea.
On Wednesday, the South’s Korea Gas Corp. said that its president, Choo Kang-soo, left for Russia for meetings with officials of Russia’s largest gas firm Gazprom. His departure came a day after North Korea’s Oil Industry Minister Kim Hui-yong headed to Russia, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency.
Choo, as then vice president of Hyundai Corp., had assisted Lee as Hyundai E&C sought to ink the MOU with Moscow two decades ago.
KOGAS and Gazprom had signed a memorandum of understanding in September 2008 in which the two agreed to push for the pipeline natural gas project. Lee then named Choo as head of KOGAS.
“Talks on the PNG project began to speed up recently,” KOGAS spokesman Song Jae-ho said.
Choo met with Alexander Ananenkov, deputy chairman of Gazprom’s management committee, early last month in Russia. North Korea’s Kim also met with Ananenkov early July in Pyongyang.
Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said he supports Moscow’s long-sought project to push for gas exports to Korea during summit talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The discussions between KOGAS and Gazprom are expected to be followed up by Korea-Russia joint economic committee meetings on Oct. 24-25 in Seoul, in which Finance Minister Bahk Jae-wan and Russian Minister of Regional Development Viktor Basargin will take part as head of delegations.
Basargin held similar meetings with North Korea late last month in which the two sides negotiated the PNG project.
The project may also be discussed in a regular round of meetings between senior diplomats of South Korea and Russia scheduled to be held in Moscow on Monday.
Both Seoul and Moscow would be seeking to achieve a certain level of progress, if not seal the deal, by November when Lee and Medvedev have chances to meet on the sidelines of three multilateral talks -- the G20 summit in Cannes on Nov. 3-4, the APEC summit in Hawaii on Nov. 12-13 and the East Asia Summit in Bali on Nov. 18-19.
Ruling Grand National Party chairman Hong Joon-pyo said Thursday that Seoul’s conditions include a 30 percent discount for the Siberian gas imports should the North block the pipeline.
“A liquefied natural gas storage site is being built in Samcheok, Gangwon Province, now and the construction started on the premise that we import Siberian gas through an underwater pipeline,” Hong said in a meeting of the GNP’s supreme council.
“I believe there is no need to worry about the North blocking the pipeline.”
Hong said the PNG project could be an opportunity to rewrite inter-Korean relations.
Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Joong-kyung told reporters Wednesday that the project may be launched soon as all involved parties are showing positive interest.
“Russia is very enthusiastic, and North Korea, too, is not strongly objecting so there is a possibility that things could progress faster than anticipated,” Choi told reporters.
Choi said the government still needs to find out more about the North’s position before making any final decisions.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)