The Korea Herald


Lee says gas project may proceed 'faster than expected'


Published : Sept. 9, 2011 - 00:31

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President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday said the purported project to pipe Russian gas through North Korea into South Korea could take shape "faster than expected" as it would benefit all three countries.

"A time will come for the three parties -- South and North Korea as well as Russia -- to discuss (the project)," Lee said in a nationally televised dialogue with two professors and two anchorpersons Thursday night.

President Lee Myung-bak speaks at a televised debate with panelists on Thursday night. President Lee Myung-bak speaks at a televised debate with panelists on Thursday night.

"If the gas (transport) is blocked in the middle, North Korea would lose money and Russia would have nowhere to sell it. If (the gas transport) is cut off because of the North, they should reimburse it at a cost of shipping it by sea."

In a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il not only agreed to let Russia pipe the gas through its territory but also made a pledge to unconditionally return to the long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks, apparently eager to escape diplomatic and financial isolation.

Russia’s presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District, Viktor Ishaev, also said that the North’s leader agreed to permit the envisioned pipeline to go through its territory if Russia and South Korea sign a contract on the project, according to a news report.

Lee reiterated that an inter-Korean summit will be held only when it can bring peace on the peninsula.

"If North Korea pushes with its nuclear brinkmanship, we cannot help them even if we want to," Lee said.

"I intend to take lead in helping the North with the international community to improve its economy and maintain security. That will be the true agenda of an inter-Korean summit."

During the 80-minute live show, Lee also discussed a variety of issues ranging from youth employment, inflation, tax cuts and the future of agriculture to politics and his vision for "ecosystemic" development to reduce disparities.

Lee has often appeared on TV around major traditional holidays.

Regarding the ongoing political controversy over universal or selective welfare, Lee said the Korean people will not vote for any politician who makes populist pledges to provide universal welfare.

The president also said that the so-called "Ahn Cheol-soo syndrome" reflected a greater demand for change in domestic politics. Entrepreneur-turned-professor Ahn has topped polls, humiliating many leading politicians immediately after he hinted running for Seoul mayor last week.

"Some view it in a negative way, but (politicians) should take this as an opportunity for improvement," Lee said. 

By Kim So-hyun (