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South Korea's Roh in Russia for nuclear talks, energy
Updated: 2004-09-21 16:38

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun launched a four-day visit to Moscow aimed at boosting Russia's role in curbing North Korea's nuclear weapons drive and getting greater access to Russian energy riches.

Roh flew in from Kazakhstan, where he met President Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier on Monday during a visit that yielded agreement for South Korean firms to step up their presence in the Central Asian state's Caspian Shelf oil sector.

The projects could secure up to 800 million barrels of crude oil for South Korea, the world's fourth biggest oil importer.

Roh, the first South Korean leader to travel to Russia since Kim Dae-Jung in 1999, will hold a summit with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss Russia's role in six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program and ways to boost economic exchanges.

"Russia is a major partner for South Korea and we have common aims and tasks," he told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

"It plays a very important role in resolving the nuclear problem in the Korean peninsula and I hope it will continue to do so," Roh added.

The chances are increasingly slim for a resumption this month of six-nation talks on a two-year-old impasse over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The country has maintained a tougher stance after South Korea disclosed its own nuclear experiments to enrich uranium four years ago and to extract a small amount of plutonium in the 1980s.

China, host of the six-way talks, admitted last week it would be difficult to hold the talks by the end of September as planned.

But Seoul urged Pyongyang to return to the talks which bring together the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

South Korea, which only established diplomatic relations with Moscow in 1990 in the dying days of the Soviet Union, meanwhile is focused on tapping Russia's resource-rich Far East to feed its growing appetite for energy.

Issues likely to come up in Moscow include South Korean imports of oil and natural gas from Russia and the connection of the Trans-Siberian Railway with a railway through the Korean peninsula.

But so far, there is patchy progress here, with a difficult investment climate in Russia's Asian regions seen as an obstacle.

The ambitious project to establish an "Iron Silk Road" linking Asia with Europe by rail meanwhile is costly -- modernising the North Korean railway is expected to cost US$3 billion(2.5 billion euros).

And it remains impossible to realise while the two Koreas are locked in a state of such mutual enmity.

In Kazakhstan, officials of the state-run Korea National Oil Corp. (KNOC) accompanying Roh signed a protocol with Kazakh state oil firm Kazmunaigaz allowing KNOC to explore Caspian Sea oil wells and others in the onshore Tengiz region, South Korean officials said.

Separately, Korea Resources Corp. signed an agreement with Kazakhstan's state-run uranium firm KazAtomProm to jointly develop uranium mines that could provide South Korea with 1,000 tonnes of uranium annually over 30 years, the Yonhap news agency said.

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