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Russia considers North Korean pipeline
by Staff Writers
Seoul (UPI) Aug 9, 2011

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Russia is having discussions with North Korea to build a pipeline across the country to supply Siberian natural gas to South Korea.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Moscow with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan with energy issues on the agenda.

Lavrov said there currently are "contacts at the level of gas companies' chiefs" in the Russian Federation, South Korea and North Korea for the proposed natural gas pipeline project.

"If experts agree at the corporate level, all three capitals will provide political support," he said. "We want (North Korea) to develop dynamically and to solve its international problems that would facilitate the normalization of the situation in Northeast Asia," Yonhap news agency reported.

Kim said he and Lavrov had "in-depth" discussions about the political situation on the Korean Peninsula, remarking, "Both sides agreed that the six-party talks, if resumed, should be substantial and practical."

Political decisions on supplying an annual 10 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to South Korea were made in the autumn of 2010 during President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Seoul.

The proposed pipeline faces a number of logistical difficulties, not the least being that the two Koreas are still technically at war, as no peace treaty -- only an armistice -- signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

If built, the pipeline could help North Korea's chronic shortages of hard currency, as Pyongyang would earn tens of millions of dollars annually from transit fees.

"Energy starvation" has severely stressed North Korea, and in July its Moscow ambassador visited the headquarters of Gazprom, Russia's state-owned natural gas monopoly.

Also, Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alekhsandr Ananenkov traveled to Pyongyang and Gazprom head Alexei Miller is going to visit both the North Korean capital and Seoul for further talks about the potential pipeline.

There is a second Russian initiative to supply its Siberian natural gas to South Korea. Ananenkov signed an agreement with Kogas Chief Executive Officer Choo Kang-soo in Moscow on Friday to consider options of shipping natural gas from the Sakhalin-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok natural gas transportation system to South Korea.

Lavrov added that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has a long-standing invitation to visit Russia, noting, "The timing and other organizational issues have to be coordinated by the nations."

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