Yakunin Signs North Korea Rail Link Deal

Russia Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin on Thursday signed a long-awaited deal to rebuild a railway line to North Korea, a step Moscow says could eventually boost trade between the secretive state and South Korea.

Under the deal, the two countries will renovate the rail line from Khasan in the Russian Far East to the North Korean port of Rajin, where sea cargo to and from South Korea could be unloaded.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and President Vladimir Putin agreed on the outlines of the project during Kim's visit to Russia in 2001, but talks with North Korea dragged on for seven years with periodic breaks in negotiations.

Yakunin signed the deal in Moscow with North Korean Rail Minister Kim Yong Sam. "We have been moving towards this moment for seven years," Yakunin said in a statement. "I am convinced that the agreement and contract signed today will serve to strengthen the economic ties between Russia and North Korea as well as between North and South Korea."

Officials say the route will provide a rare link with North Korea, whose economy has been drained by supporting one of the world's largest standing armies.

Russian Railway officials in Moscow refused to say when the 54-kilometer rail line would be ready or give an estimate of how much it would cost. A container terminal will be built at Rajin by a joint Russian-North Korean venture.