President will travel to Middle East

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President will travel to Middle East

President Lee Myung-bak will embark on a weeklong visit to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates this weekend, his office said yesterday. It is a trip expected to focus on enhancing economic cooperation, especially Seoul’s efforts to diversify sources of crude oil imports.

The trip comes as South Korea prepares to reduce its crude oil imports from Iran in line with a U.S.-led campaign to dry up the Middle Eastern nation’s oil exports revenues as punishment and pressure over its alleged nuclear weapons.

Iranian crude oil accounts for some 10 percent of South Korea’s total crude oil imports. Concerns have arisen that a drastic cut could have negative effects on Asia’s fourth-largest economy, though the government has played down the possibility of a heavy economic impact.

Officials have said substitute sources can be secured in countries like Saudi Arabia.

Lee is scheduled to arrive in Turkey on Saturday for a four-day visit that includes talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan about trade expansion, infrastructure construction and other issues of cooperation, the presidential office said.

The two sides could discuss a nuclear power plant construction project in the Eurasian nation.

During a summit on the sidelines of November’s G20 summit in Cannes, France, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan asked for South Korea’s participation in the project, raising the prospect of resuming stalled negotiations.

Lee will visit Saudi Arabia on Feb. 7-9 for talks with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz about boosting cooperation in energy, construction, defense and health care areas, the presidential office said.

On Feb. 9, Lee will visit Qatar for summit talks with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. The agenda includes expanding cooperation in trade, energy, construction and health care as well as such global issues as climate change and green growth, the office said.

On the way home, Lee will make a stopover in the United Arab Emirates for a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi about increasing economic cooperation, the office said.

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