March 14, 2012 13:02
President Lee Myung-bak spoke to Vladimir Putin on the telephone on Tuesday for the first time since Putin won the Russian presidential election. Lee congratulated Putin on his win and discussed a project to build a natural gas pipeline from Russia via North Korea to South Korea.
The call could provide much-needed for a project that has been stuck in limbo for some time.
It was Putin who first brought up the gas pipeline project. The Russian president-elect pledged to work toward improving inter-Korean relations, and pay more attention to the project. "The project was not on the agenda when we were discussing the details of the phone call in advance," a Cheong Wa Dae official said. "Putin showed his willingness to push this forward."
If the project is realized, the shipping cost of natural gas will drop by an estimated 70 percent over LNG carriers. North Korea can make up to US$100 million for allowing the gas to pass through its territory. The deal would also open up new export market for natural gas from Siberia.
When Lee visited Russia in November last year, he also discussed the project at length with President Dmitry Medvedev. At the time, Lee said the pipeline should not only contribute to peace on the Korean Peninsula but also meet commercial conditions for business. Medvedev said Russia would take responsibility for any potential risks and supply disruption.
Putin aims to boost Russia's standing in the international community with the project.
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