SEOUL (AFP) - A group of South Korean businessmen will visit North Korea from Tuesday to consider taking part in an ambitious infrastructure project to open a new trading route with Russia.
Seoul's Unification Ministry said on Monday that 18 officials from state-run Korea Railway Corp. (Korail), top steelmaker Posco and Hyundai Merchant Marine would make the three-day visit to the North's north-eastern port of Rajin.
Rajin, newly linked with the Russian city of Khasan by railway, is at the centre of a joint venture with Russia, in which the port will be upgraded and serve as a gateway for Russian cargo trade.
Located in the far north-east, where the borders of the North, Russia and China converge, Rajin offers a warm-water port for the North's two giant neighbours.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, during his visit to Seoul last year, urged the consortium of South Korean companies to join the project to build and upgrade railways and port facilities.
"The team will inspect sites related to Rajin-Khasan railways and Rajin port," the unification ministry said.
It is part of an ambitious scheme - dubbed the "Iron Silk Road" - which would unite the rail networks of South and North Korea and connect them to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Putin wants to see the rail link extended through the North and all the way down to the southern South Korean port of Busan.
But the project faces huge political hurdles given the volatility of inter-Korean relations and the unpredictability of the isolated North.