Palestinian president to visit Seoul first time

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Palestinian president to visit Seoul first time

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Korea this week, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday, expressing high hopes for the first trip here by the highest leader of the Palestinian National Authority.

Abbas will be in Korea on Wednesday and Thursday and will meet with President Lee Myung-bak, the Foreign Ministry said. The Palestinian leader will also attend a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Chung Un-chan. “By providing assistance to Palestine, we will be able to deepen bilateral relations,” an official at the Foreign Ministry said. “It will also be an opportunity for Korea to indirectly contribute to peace in the Middle East including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

Since 1991, Korea has provided $33 million of assistance to Palestine. In addition, special aid of $2 million was sent to Palestine in March of last year to support the rebuilding efforts in the Gaza Strip following Israel’s earlier offensive. Following a bilateral agreement in 2005, Korea and Palestine have exchanged diplomatic representatives.

Though Abbas is the first president of the Palestinian National Authority to visit Korea, an Israeli leader visited the country in 1997.

At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Korea and met with then President Kim Young-sam.

President Lee also met with Israeli President Shimon Peres on the sidelines of the Davos Forum in Switzerland last month to seek ways to boost bilateral trade and energy cooperation. The security situation in the Middle East as well as other global concerns were also discussed, the Blue House has said.

According to diplomatic experts, Abbas’s visit will allow Korea to establish a balanced position in the Arab world and broaden Korea’s horizon in Middle East diplomacy. Ambassadors from other Arab nations in Korea plan to invite the Palestinian leader for a luncheon on Thursday.

Abbas has been the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a political and paramilitary organization founded in 1964, since November 2004 and became the president of the Palestinian National Authority in January 2005. Elected to serve a four-year term, he unilaterally extended his term for another year.

By Ser Myo-ja []

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