Putin praises start of work to reconnect Korean railways

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sent a message to North and South Korean presidents Kim Jong-il and Kim Dae-Jung, congratulating them on the start of work to reconnect their countries' railways.

As the Russian head of state's press service told RIA Novosti, the message explains at length how Russia "greets with great pleasure this symbolic step, which will undoubtedly serve to develop the process of inter-Korean reconciliation and reconnection, and will make a considerable contribution to improving the peace and security of the Korean peninsular and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole." In this respect, Putin noted, Russia "is prepared to do all that is asked of it, in active co-operation with the Korean Republic and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), including trilateral efforts to allow freight transit between the Trans-Siberian mainline and a reconnected Trans-Korean railway to start as soon as possible, opening a transport corridor between the Korean republic and Europe." According to RIA Novosti information, such a venture would create a rail route running from the South of the Korean peninsular to Europe via Russia. This corridor would link the Trans-Korean railway to a proposed branch of the Trans-Siberian railway. The construction of this branch, on the initiative of Russia, has been the subject of bilateral technical consultations since 1999.

The improvement of conditions in the Korean peninsular as a result of the inter-Korean summit of June 2000 has reduced debate about the construction of a railway between North and South Korea to the level of practical details. A rail link would offer a cheaper and faster route for freight transit between the Korean peninsular and Russia, China and Europe, in comparison to the existing sea route.

This project reached the stage of high-level negotiations during Mr. Putin's visit to North Korea in July 2000 and to the Korean Republic in February 2001. Discussions on it were continued at the meetings between Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, which took place in Moscow in August 2001 and in Vladivostok in August 2002, and also through contacts with the South Korean authorities at various levels.

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