Russia Opens North Korean Rail Link for ‘Iron Silk Road’

The top executives of both countries state train operators inaugurated a route today that links the North Korean port city of Rajin with the Russian border town of Khasan. Initially, the 54-kilometer (33-mile) line will transport Russian coal to markets in the Asia-Pacific region, OAO Russian Railways Chief Executive Officer Vladimir Yakunin said at the ceremony in Rajin. The second phase of the project will involve the construction of a container-handling facility and potentially an oil terminal at the North Korean site, he said. Our common objective is for this link and port to be a pilot scheme for the restoration of a single transport system in North and South Korea that would link the peninsula to countries that gravitate to this region, to Europe via Russia, Yakunin said. The CEO said he hopes the plan will help promote peace between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war following the conflict 1950-53 that divided the countries. The route is part of a larger project, dubbed the Iron Silk Road, that would connect Russia s Trans-Siberian Railway to South Korea via the North for an overland route cutting transportation costs to Europe. Success depends on improved ties between South Korea and its isolated Communist neighbor. Reunions Scrapped North Korea canceled plans today for reunions this week of families separated by the division of the peninsula, and accused South Korean leaders of throwing obstacles in the way of reconciliation. The North also put off talks on resuming tours by South Koreans to its Mount Geumgang resort after recent weeks of improved relations between the two sides. Kim Jong Uns regime accused the South of seeking confrontation, and threatened strong and decisive retaliation against any military provocation. The Khasan-Rajin rail link will carry 100,000 freight containers a year, the Norths official Korean Central News Agency reported in April 2012. The freight terminal at Rajin will be able to handle 4 million tons a year of coal, Yakunin said today, including shipments for OAO Mechel , Russias biggest supplier of the material for steelmakers. The new rail connection will promote the joint economic and transport development of the two countries and welfare of their peoples, North Korean Railways Minister Chon Kil-su said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a meeting of leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Sochi September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Alexey Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

The U.S.-Russia deal came after an August 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus that Washington says killed over 1,400 people, many of them children. Following are questions and answers about the plan to dismantle Syria’s poison gas program. WHAT IS THE SIZE OF SYRIA’S CHEMICAL ARSENAL? Syria has roughly 1,000 tonnes of chemical toxins – including mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin and VX – spread over as many as 50 sites around the country. WHAT HAPPENS AT THE HAGUE’S CHEMICAL ARMS AGENCY? The 41-member Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague is expected to vote on Tuesday on a joint Russian-American proposal to rapidly verify and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. That vote has been repeatedly delayed. According to the U.S.-Russia framework agreement, the chemical arms agency’s Executive Council will detail “special procedures for expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program and stringent verification thereof.” The chemical arms agency’s decision must be approved by a simple majority of council members, though agreement is almost always reached through a consensus, which is expected in Syria’s case. The council meets behind closed doors but may be open to observer countries that are not yet members. Syria is not yet a full member. Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention this month in line with the U.S.-Russia deal.

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