(ATTN: UPDATES in paras 6-7, 11-13 with quotes, new photo)
By Chang Jae-soon
OSLO, Sept. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Norway agreed Wednesday to partner with each other to tackle climate change threatening the Arctic and develop the resources-rich region without harming its environment, including opening up polar shipping routes.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reached the agreement during summit talks, and the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to help shipping firms of their nations open new sea lanes over the Arctic.
"Prime Minister Stoltenberg and I agreed to forge a future-oriented partnership aimed at tackling climate change and environment-friendly development and preservation of the Arctic in order to proactively deal with tasks of the 21st century," Lee said during a joint news conference.
"We had serious discussions about future cooperation plans, including the High North Policy that Norway's government has been focusing on as well as our participation in opening Arctic routes," Lee said. "We agreed to cooperate closely for the protection of the environment and biodiversity in the Arctic and for its sustainable development."
The High North Policy refers to an initiative Norway's government has been pushing for as a priority for environmental protection and sustainable development of resources in the Arctic region that is rich in resources, such as oil, gas and rare earth materials.
Stoltenberg said Norway actively supports Seoul's Arctic initiative and hopes South Korea will assume permanent observer status in the Arctic Council. Lee said Norway promised to back Seoul's bid for observer status at a council meeting next spring.
The Arctic Council is an eight-member intergovernmental forum formed to promote cooperation on common Arctic issues, especially sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.
Officials said Arctic lanes, which are opening as ice melts, will cut shipping distances and time between Asia and Europe by about 40 percent from the existing roundabout routes via the Suez Canal, and will serve as a fresh impetus for Northeast Asian economies.
The two sides signed another MOU calling for cooperation in environment-friendly shipbuilding. Shipbuilding is the main area of economic exchanges between the two countries, accounting for half of their trade. Norway is a global leader in building environment-friendly "green" ships, officials said.
Other points of agreement reached in the summit included boosting cooperation in oil exploration, development and storage, as well as in the area of green growth and renewable energy. Norway is a founding member of the South-led Global Green Growth Institute.
Lee said the two countries also discussed ways to improve human rights in North Korea.
"As to North Korea issues, there were a lot of discussions not only on the issue of denuclearization, but also on missiles and in particular, the issue of human rights," Lee told the news conference.
"As EU nations have high standards on human rights, we agreed to pay attention to and work together improve human rights in North Korea. I take this opportunity to thank Norway's government for supporting us on North Korea issues," he said.
Lee has been in Oslo since Monday. On Tuesday, he delivered a peace speech urging Japan to learn from Europe and sincerely atone for its wartime atrocities, and met with Crown Prince Haakon and parliamentary leaders on Tuesday.
Norway was the third stop in Lee's weeklong trip that already took him to Vladivostok, Russia, for an annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and Greenland for talks on climate change and resource development.
He was to leave for Kazakhstan later Wednesday.
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