President Lee Myung-bak and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate on a project to pipe Siberian natural gas to South Korea via North Korea during their summit Wednesday in St. Petersburg.
“The two leaders agreed that if carried out successfully, the project to import Russian natural gas will bring economic benefits to all three countries,” Lee’s office said in a press release.
Noting that there are concerns over the stability of the pipeline running through North Korea, Lee said he expects Russia’s cooperation in resolving the North’s nuclear stalemate, according to his senior aide for public relations Choe Guem-nak.
The two leaders agreed that once the security problem was dealt with, they could consider supplying surplus electricity as well as gas from the Russian Far East to South Korea via the North, Choe said.
A tentative agreement reached between Korea Gas Corp. and Russia’s Gazprom calls for starting the construction of a pipeline through North Korea in 2013 in order to begin gas supply in 2017.
The two state-funded companies agreed on the roadmap in September, Nikolai Dubik, head of Gazprom’s legal department, said at the Korea-Russia Dialogue forum in St. Petersburg Wednesday.
The roadmap calls for the completion of commercial negotiations on the basic conditions related to the pipeline gas project by January and the signing of a deal between January and April.
The two sides will then draft the gas pipeline route between March next year and September 2013, start the construction right away and complete it by December 2016 to begin supply in January 2017, Dubik said.
Chief executives Choo Kang-soo of KOGAS and Alexey Miller of Gazprom signed on to the plan in September during Choo’s visit to Moscow.
Alexander Medvedev, head of Gazprom’s export, said in an international management forum in Tokyo late last month that his staff were in talks with their Korean counterpart on the main conditions related to the gas supply.
He said they plan to complete the discussions by January and sign a basic agreement in mid-2012.
Lee said intensifying Korea-Russia cooperation in Siberia and the Russian Far East region was highly encouraging for the future of the two countries as well as Northeast Asia in a speech at the closing ceremony of the Korea-Russia Dialogue forum earlier Wednesday.
“I visited Siberia and the Russian Far East a number of times when I was a businessman, confirmed the infinite potential of the region with my own eyes and have sought bilateral economic cooperation since,” Lee said at the second annual KRD forum in St. Petersburg.
President Lee Myung-bak and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev embrace each other at the closing ceremony of the Korea-Russia Dialogue forum in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.(Yonhap News)
Lee said the two countries’ economic collaboration will contribute to prosperity and peace in Northeast Asia, hinting at his expectations for the PNG project.
In addition to the pipeline venture, Lee and Medvedev agreed during Wednesday’s summit that a comprehensive and fundamental resolve to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions was important for peace and stability in the region and pledged to closely work together for the resumption of the six-nation talks.
Russia is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and member of the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the North.
In an interview published by French newspaper Le Figaro Tuesday, Lee said he had no intention to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il purely for political purposes.
Reiterating that a summit should contribute towards bringing peace and stability between the South and North, as well as progress in economic cooperation, Lee said, according to Le Figaro.
“I have absolutely no obligation for a summit before my term ends,” Lee told the daily.
But Lee said he was ready for the summit with Kim if it were necessary.
Mentioning that the six-party talks so far have only allowed Pyongyang to buy time, Lee said the multilateral dialogue can resume if North Korea’s sincerity is verified through its ongoing bilateral contacts with Seoul and Washington.
In an interview with Russia’s Itar-Tass News Agency and Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Lee urged Russia businesses to invest more in Korea.
“Two-way trade is forecast to reach $20 billion by the end of this year, and Korean companies have continued to expand investment in Russia,” Lee was quoted as saying.
Lee called for Moscow’s support in terms of customs, licenses and tax benefits for Korean investors and said he expects the KRD to build nongovernmental bridges for exchanges in various fields.
The negotiating body of businesses and universities as well as the governments of the two countries was launched last year upon a summit agreement between Lee and Medvedev in 2008. The first KRD forum was held in Seoul last year.
Lee traveled to Cannes later in the day where he gave a keynote speech at the Business Summit (B20) dinner with the chief executives of major global companies.
Lee is set to attend the G20 Summit in the French resort city Thursday and Friday before heading home.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com