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Park, Putin agree to restore trans-Siberian vision

Korea, Russia to cooperate in Russia-led logistics project, urge N.K. denuclearization

President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin walk to their summit at Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)
President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin walk to their summit at Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)
Presidents Park Geun-hye of South Korea and Vladimir Putin of Russia held summit talks on Wednesday in Seoul and agreed to broaden economic cooperation including a Russian-led project to develop a North Korean border port that will set the basis for an envisioned railway link from Korea to Siberia.

In a joint statement, the two leaders agreed to seek wider cooperation on short and long-term projects in such fields as shipbuilding, financial infrastructure, logistics, energy, science, space and knowledge sharing.

On North Korea, the two leaders affirmed that its development of nuclear and missile capabilities ran counter to the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions, and emphasized Pyongyang cannot hold nuclear state status according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They underscored the importance of the North’s denuclearization through the six-party talks, and agreed to cooperate in resuming the talks that have been suspended since late 2008.

Park also urged Putin to support her trust-building process for the Korean Peninsula, as the Russian leader welcomed the president’s vision for creating a peace and cooperation initiative for Northeast Asia.

Without specifying countries such as Japan, the two sides also jointly expressed concern toward obstacles created by regressive historical views that hinder the realization of cooperation in the region.

Putin arrived in Seoul early Wednesday morning for a short one-day trip. Park and Putin held a joint press conference after their talks. After a late luncheon joined by some 60 government officials, politicians, business representatives and scholars, the two planned to attend the Korea-Russia Dialogue Forum’s closing ceremony in the evening.

Putin’s visit here, originally planned as a two-day stay, was adjusted at the last minute upon a delay during his previous stop in Vietnam. Putin also arrived about 30 minutes late to the summit meeting with Park, pushing back the rest of the schedule and prompting debate here about diplomatic faux-pas. Cheong Wa Dae denied there had been any diplomatic hiccup.

This is the second summit meeting between Park and Putin following their first in September on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

At the summit, Seoul and Moscow signed a memorandum of understanding for South Korean businesses to participate in the “Najin-Hasan project” established by North Korea and Russia in 2008 to modernize the 54-kilometer Najin-Hasan railway. Russia plans to use the rail-connected port as a key export point, while South Korean firms can ship exports first to Najin for them to be transported to as far as Europe via the Russian railway.

Through the MOU, a group of South Korean companies including POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine and Korea Railroad Corporation would buy a stake in RasonKonTrans, the Russian-North Korean joint venture carrying out the rail and port renovation project.

Park and Putin said in their statement that the connection of the TSR and Trans Korean Railway would contribute to peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia, and eventually development cooperation for Eurasia.

“South Korea and Russia will join hands to create the era of Eurasia for the new future,” Park said in the joint press conference.

Park has been pushing for the “Eurasia initiative” that calls for expanding ties among Eurasian countries through connections of roads and railways to build the new “Silk Road Express” running from South Korea to Europe via North Korea, Russia and China. Korea’s participation in the Najin-Hasan project is also expected to play a part in Seoul’s move to ease the May 24 measures against economic cooperation with the North, introduced after the North’s sinking of the South Korean Cheonan naval ship in 2010.

As for other trilateral projects among the two Koreas and Russia, Park and Putin discussed ways to construct a pipeline for natural gas from South Korea to Russia via North Korea.

“Our position is that these matters and cooperation should not be held hostage, and instead act as the important factor to create harmony,” Putin said.

Putin also said that Russia supported peace and safety on the Korean peninsula and the guarantee of an equal level of safety for the involved countries, adding that the security problem could only be solved politically and diplomatically.

Also included in the agenda were ways for Korea to pioneer a North Pole route through Russia’s seas, and the establishment of a joint investment fund by the two countries’ state-run banks.

“We welcome the establishment of a platform for the joint investment and loans that will promote participation of companies from the two countries for the regional development of Russia’s Far Eastern and Siberia region,” Park said.

After the summit talks, MOUs were signed for a visa waiver between the two countries for 60-day-long trips, and the establishment of culture centers in each other’s capitals.

Prior to the summit talks, Putin said in a special speech at the 6th Korea Russia Business Dialogue that political problems between the two Koreas must be swiftly solved for the sake of economic projects jointly participated in by the two Koreas and Russia.

Adding that benefits created through such trilateral cooperation are significant, Putin urged that the projects should not be further delayed.

While attending the KRD, Park stressed the need for a second Silk Road.

“Restoring Eurasia as a space for ‘communication, openness, creation and integration’ by opening a second Silk Road through the region, which has been isolated and detached due to a long history of ordeals, is extremely crucial for the sake of the future, hope and prosperity of humankind.”

By Lee Joo-hee (