Korea resumes talks with Turkey on nuclear plant

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Korea resumes talks with Turkey on nuclear plant

ISTANBUL - Korea and Turkey agreed in principle to conclude negotiations on a free trade agreement in the first half of the year and resume stalled talks on the Eurasian nation’s atomic power plant project, officials said Sunday.

The agreement was reached in talks between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the ancient city of Istanbul.

The two countries have held three rounds of negotiations on a free trade deal since April 2010.

After those negotiations, the two countries are close to agreement on the goods sector, but differences still remain in the services and investment sectors, officials said. The sticking points are not large, however, and could be resolved smoothly, they said.

“If the FTA is concluded, it will help Korean products expand not only into Turkey but also other European markets because Turkey already has a tariff alliance with the European Union,” a presidential official said on condition of anonymity.

Such a trade pact could allow Korean firms to export goods to other parts of Europe via Turkey at low prices as Turkey and the EU are linked by an agreement to remove or lower tariffs between them.

The two leaders also agreed to resume stalled negotiations on a project to build an atomic power plant on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. During talks with Lee, Erdogan expressed strong hopes for Korea to participate in the project, senior presidential press secretary Choe Geum-nak said.

Turkey plans to build four nuclear reactors in the Black Sea port of Sinop and hopes Korea will build two of them on the condition that Seoul finances the construction and then recovers the cost by taking profit from selling electricity from the plant.

In 2010, Korea and Turkey held intense negotiations on the project, but the talks were later suspended after the sides failed to resolve key differences, such as the location of the reactors, electricity prices and government payment guarantees, officials said.

Japan was then expected to win the project, but Turkey’s talks with Japanese companies were halted after the deadly nuclear accident in Fukushima last March. During a summit with Lee on the sidelines of a G-20 summit in France in November, Erdogan asked to resume negotiations.

Officials said Turkey’s calls for Korea’s participation in the project suggest that Ankara is willing to make concessions on the sticking points.

But no specific issues were discussed in Sunday’s talks between Lee and Erdogan, officials said.

Korea is a global atomic energy leader that relies on nuclear plants for about 40 percent of its electricity.

The country has also been trying to export nuclear power plants since Korean firms won a massive contract in late 2009 to build four atomic power plants in the United Arab Emirates.

Turkey has seen its electricity demand soaring with fast economic growth.

The country has been one of the world’s fastest-growing economies despite global economic downturns. The Turkish economy grew 9 percent in 2010 and 8.2 percent in the third quarter of last year.

Lee and Erdogan also agreed to provide active government support for a culture expo that Istanbul and the ancient Korean city of Gyeongju plan to jointly hold in Istanbul in 2013, the statement said.

Lee praised Erdogan’s efforts to bring peace and stability in the Middle East, and the prime minister expressed unwavering support for Seoul’s policies aimed at making peace with North Korea, the office said.

Lee also welcomed Erdogan’s decision to attend March’s Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.

Later Sunday, Lee flew to the capital city of Ankara for a summit with President Abdullah Gul. Key topics of their meeting, set for Monday, include trade expansion and infrastructure construction.

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