President Moon confirmed safe after drone strike in UAE
UAE authorities said that three transport tankers exploded at an oil facility, and another fire broke out at an extension of Abu Dhabi International Airport. Two Indians and one Pakistani were killed at the oil facility, while at least eight people were injured, including two airport employees, according to Abu Dhabi police.
Moon had been visiting the UAE since Saturday, as a part of an eight-day tour of the Middle East, and had been attending an event in Dubai, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from the Abu Dhabi airport, at the time of the attack.
Moon expressed to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the UAE, "deep condolences and sympathy" for the victims of the suspected drone attack in a 25-minute phone call Monday evening.
"We express our serious concern over acts that threaten peace and stability in the Middle East region, including the UAE, and we strongly condemn attacks on civilians and the taking of lives as unacceptable acts of terrorism," he added.
The two leaders' summit meeting in Abu Dhabi was unexpectedly canceled shortly before Moon's arrival in the country, upon the request of the UAE side.
Moon, after finishing his schedule in Dubai, had been expected to visit Abu Dhabi Monday for a summit meeting and luncheon with the crown prince, according to a Blue House official, which would have placed him close to the site of the drone attack. The opening ceremony of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, attended by Moon Monday, was also moved to Dubai right before the president's visit to the UAE.
The Abu Dhabi crown prince told Moon in the phone call that the attack had been anticipated, according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson, in a statement.
The crown prince said he was "very sorry and regretful" that he could not meet Moon in person "due to an unavoidable situation," and asked the president for his understanding, she added. He added that he appreciates the "development of the special relationship between Korea and the UAE."
Moon said that Korea will "always be with the UAE."
The two leaders especially focused on defense industry cooperation in their talks. Moon said he hoped the countries will cooperate not only on construction and infrastructure but also in the defense field.
On Sunday, the UAE signed a $3.5 billion preliminary deal to purchase Korea's mid-range surface-to-air missiles (M-SAM) Block-2 defense system, also called Cheongung II, after Moon's meeting with UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in Dubai.
Moon thanked the crown prince for his interest in the Cheongung II missile system deal and a project for Korea's building of a subsea transmission system in the UAE.
The crown prince said he believes Cheongung II will increase the UAE's defense capabilities and that the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between Korea and the UAE in the defense field will continue to strengthen the two countries cooperative relationship, said the Blue House.
Im Jong-seok, special adviser for foreign affairs and security and a part of Moon's delegation to the UAE, didn't confirm if the drone attack was the reason behind the president's canceled meeting with the Abu Dhabi crown prince, but he added such airstrikes "are always within the range of concerns that this country faces."
He added that airstrikes "were a concern [in the Middle East] before the feeling that the United States was withdrawing from the Middle East to a certain extent became a reality."
The United States also "strongly condemned" the "terrorist attack," and Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said in a statement, "The Houthis have claimed responsibility for this attack, and we will work with the UAE and international partners to hold them accountable."
Houthi spokesperson Brigadier Gen. Yahya Saree claimed that five ballistic missiles and a large number of drones were used in "Operation Hurricane Yemen," which targeted Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports, the Musaffah oil refinery in Abu Dhabi and a number of important UAE sites and facilities.
The Saudi led-coalition fighting in Yemen launched airstrikes on its rebel-held capital Sanaa on Monday, in response to the Houthis' deadly drone attack in the UAE.
The UAE is part of this Saudi-led military coalition that supports Yemen's government against the Houthi militia.
Moon was scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia, the second leg of his Middle East trip, Tuesday for talks with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a business forum.
This marks the first trip a Korean president has taken to Saudi Arabia in seven years.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]