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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Railway Summit With Both Koreas Set

Russia and both Koreas will meet in Vladivostok later this month for the first Cabinet-level talks on linking the Trans-Korean and Trans-Siberian railroads, Railways Minister Gennady Fadeyev said Tuesday.

Fresh off a five-day visit to Pyongyang at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong II, Fadeyev said the historic project to link South Korea's deepwater port of Pusan to Europe by rail is at the stage where tough negotiations need to begin to move it forward.

Fadeyev said that many issues remain unresolved but he expects the meeting in Vladivostok to move the ambitious project "toward the next level."

"The political influence on this project is huge, but we are hopeful [that reason will prevail]," he said.

That reason is economic: Pusan is one of the world's busiest and most modern ports, and much of the cargo it handles goes to Europe via the Indian Ocean and Suez Canal, Fadeyev said.

And by helping create a cheaper and quicker alternative -- a rail corridor north to the Trans-Siberian -- Russia could earn more than a billion dollars a year in transit fees.

"Getting even 10 percent of that cargo turnover will make the project super-efficient for Russia," Fadeyev said.

"But all that cargo might go via China if Russia is not guaranteed definite cargo volumes from the very top," he said.

North Korea has yet to make a decision on an exact route for the rail link or which gauge of track to use. Russia uses a wider gauge than South Korea and Europe, but it is urging Pyongyang, which wants a combined gauge, to opt for the narrow gauge.

If North Korea opts for the narrow gauge, then the project could be completed within three years, Fadeyev said, adding that a combined gauge would take three to four times longer.

Another issue being debated is where to relink the northern and southern sections of the Trans-Korean, which was divided during the Korean War.

Fadeyev said the route proposed by North Korean specialists will run mainly through tourist areas along the Sea of Japan and bypass major industrial centers. This route would require laying 130 kilometers of new track, almost all in South Korea.

One point that all parties agree on is the need to create an international consortium to finance the plan, an idea that has caught the attention of the region's two largest exporters, China and Japan.

"I hope that many questions will be answered at the trilateral meeting. The most fundamental issues remain to be solved by North Korea and South Korea," Fadeyev said.