North Korea and Russia have agreed to boost economic ties by pushing for trilateral projects involving South Korea, including a plan to support Russian companies' entry into an inter-Korean industrial complex, a media report said Saturday.
The agreement between the two was made earlier this week when Russia's Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka visited the North for a five-day run until Friday to explore ways to boost bilateral economic cooperation, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
"The Russian delegation proposed the entry of Russian businesses into the Kaesong Industrial Park, a special economic zone in North Korea just north of Seoul where South Korean companies are allowed to employ northern workers," the RIA Novosti reported, citing the ministry.
Over 44,600 North Koreans work at 120 South Korean firms operating in the park to produce clothes, shoes, watches and other labor-intensive goods. The project serves as a major legitimate revenue source for the impoverished communist country.
Officials of Seoul's unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, welcomed the agreement between the North and Russia, while stressing the importance of Russia's prior consultation with the South.
"Russian companies' making inroads into the Kaesong park is desirable in terms of the internationalization of the complex ...It would also prevent the North from unilaterally reversing its agreement with Seoul over the Kaeesong operation," the ministry official said, requesting anonymity.
Internationalization of the enclave, a symbol of inter-Korean detente, is one of the key topics for inter-Korean meetings aimed at ensuring its normal operations and further invigorating the complex. The Kaesong park resumed operations in September, more than five months after the North unilaterally closed it in anger over Seoul-Washington joint military exercises.
"But it is crucial for Russia to discuss the matter with our side first as it is basically operated by the South Korean authorities," he added.
A handful of companies from China, Australia and Germany have so far expressed interests in making an investment in the Kaesong complex, prompting the Seoul government to review holding joint presentation sessions with the North to lure investors from overseas, according to another ministry official.
Also on the table in the Pyongyang-Moscow talks was how to boost cooperation among the two Koreas and Russia, with Pyongyang and Moscow making it clear that the two "share mutual interest" in the trilateral cooperative projects, according to the report.
"The (Russian) ministry reaffirmed the countries' mutual interest in joint projects with South Korea, including international connections for railways, gas pipelines and power lines," it said, adding that the minister stressed stability on the Korean Peninsula is key to achieving the goal.
Discussions of the project to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) with the Trans-Korean Railway (TKR), dubbed the "Iron Silk Road," have been under way for more than a decade, but geopolitical obstacles have hindered it, particularly given North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
South Korea and Russia have also been in discussions to push for a project to build a gas pipeline linking the two via North Korea.
The next meeting of the bilateral commission is scheduled for June in Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok, according to the ministry.