South Korea said Wednesday it is considering whether to allow officials of a business consortium to travel to North Korea next week to inspect a project that involves the two Koreas and Russia.
Officials of the consortium comprising three South Korean companies are seeking to visit the North from July 15 through 22 to conduct a feasibility study on the so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project.
The project is designed to make the North Korean northeastern port city of Rajin a logistics hub by linking it to Russia's Trans-Siberian railway.
The trip, if made, would represent the second round of on-site inspections for the project following a similar move in February.
"The government plans to take necessary actions including a possible approval of their visit to North Korea," unification ministry spokeswoman Park Su-jin told reporters.
Seoul has yet to give the permission to the consortium for the visit as it has not received a formal invitation from the North, according to the ministry.
Any trip to the North requires the approval of the South Korean government as well as the North's consent. The Koreas still technically remain in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
Last September, Russia reopened a 54-kilometer stretch of railroad track linking Khasan, a Russian eastern border city, and Rajin after a five-year renovation.
The three South Korean firms making up the consortium are the state-run railroad operator KORAIL, No. 1 steelmaker POSCO and the second-largest shipping company, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co.
The unification ministry earlier said that a formal deal between the consortium and its Russian counterpart for the project will be signed in the second half of the year.
The consortium joined the project by purchasing stakes in RasonKonTrans, a North Korea-Russia joint venture, due to sanctions banning inter-Korean trade that were introduced in May 2010, after the deadly sinking of a South Korean navy ship that was blamed on the North.
North Korea owns a 30 percent stake in the joint venture, with Russia holding the rest. The South Korean firms are considering buying 50 percent of Russia's stake.
The project is closely linked to the "Eurasian Initiative," proposed by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, which calls for building more infrastructure and freeing up trade between Eurasian nations to create what could become a large single market rivaling the European Union.