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The nation’s top energy agency official will visit Russia this month to urge Moscow to back a Japan-proposed oil route for a planned pipeline project, a senior government official said Monday.

Iwao Okamoto, director general of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, will depart July 8 for Russia and hold talks with Russian Energy Minister Igor Yusufov and other officials sometime between July 9 and 11, said Seiji Murata, vice minister of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Okamoto is expected to discuss various issues related to the pipeline project, including how the construction cost will be covered and the development of unexplored oil reserves in East Siberia, Murata said.

Japan and China have been lobbying for separate routes in their bid to get better access to Russian oil. Japan has proposed linking eastern Siberia’s Angarsk with Nakhodka, a port city in Russia’s Far East. China is meanwhile calling for a shorter route linking Angarsk and Daqing, a city in China’s Heilongjiang Province.

But while Beijing appears to be the front-runner, Japan is still pushing its proposal as Russia has yet to announce officially which route will be selected.

“I believe (Russian) President Vladimir Putin will make a final decision on the matter around September, and a number of discussions will likely be held during the period through September,” Murata said.

If Moscow chose the Tokyo-proposed route, Japanese and many overseas markets, including those in Asia and in the United States, would benefit from it, he said.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi also pushed the Japanese proposal in meetings with Russian officials during her two-day visit over the weekend to Vladivostok.

Meanwhile, Murata flatly denied a media report that the Japanese government has decided to provide Russia with 750 billion yen to 900 billion yen to help develop an oil field in eastern Siberia.

“Nothing concrete has been decided yet,” he said.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported in its Sunday edition that the financial aid is expected to include low-interest loans provided by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and trade insurance through Japan National Oil Corp.

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