Foreign minister discusses security in Middle East

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Foreign minister discusses security in Middle East

In a move to bolster diplomacy with the Middle East, Korea’s minister of foreign affairs wrapped up a weeklong trip to the region to address security issues, humanitarian aid and trade and investment.

His journey, which started Thursday, included stops in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Israel.

Minister Yun Byung-se held talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Sunday and discussed regional issues such as the rebuilding of Gaza and the situations in the Middle East and Northeast Asia, as well as economic cooperation and development. It was the first time a Korean foreign minister has visited Palestine in seven years.

The two sides agreed to launch a $7 million project to establish a civil servant training institute in Palestine over the next three years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

After talks with Hamdallah, Yun also met with the Seoul Representative Office in Ramallah that opened in August in the central West Bank.

Park Woong-chul, the Korean representative to Palestine, was previously posted in Israel and visited Ramallah weekly to handle Korean affairs in the region.

He told reporters, “Before, at the Israeli Embassy, we used to combine the perspectives of Israel and [the Palestinians] before submitting an opinion to the Foreign Ministry. But because the ambassador was under the Korean Embassy to Israel, there was a tendency for the Palestinian perspective to be less represented. Now, we are able to report the Palestinian perspective as is.”

The Palestinian National Authority and Korea do not have official diplomatic relations, and the representative office handles the Korean government’s affairs there.

On Monday, Yun talked with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and discussed expanding economic and security cooperation, particularly in counter-terrorism and cyber security, as well as the possibility of a bilateral free trade agreement. They also signed a mutual agreement that would recognize driver’s licenses from Korea and Israel.

Yun headed to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the final leg of his trip, which included meetings with government officials to expand trade and investment and promote joint infrastructure projects like renewable energy facilities.

Before the weekend, Yun visited a Syrian refugee camp on Friday in Zaatari, Jordan, which houses more than 80,000 displaced people, mostly women and children.

Through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Korean government provided 300 caravan units worth $1 million to provide shelter for refugees during the winter.

During Yun’s visit, he presented them with 40 caravans.

There are more than 630,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Yun also met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II to discuss expanding bilateral cooperation and attended the 11th Korea-Middle East Cooperation Forum in Amman.

At the forum, entitled “Building Comprehensive Partnership towards a New Horizon,” Yun emphasized the need for increased understanding of economic and security issues for a stronger partnership between Korea and the Middle East.

Specifically, he mentioned energy cooperation and preparations for a future-oriented, post-oil era; economic partnership; security; and the need to increase communications for more dynamic diplomacy.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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