SEOUL, President Yoon Suk Yeol embarked on a series of state visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar on Saturday with economic cooperation high on the agenda despite ongoing turmoil over the war between Israel and Hamas.
On the first leg of his trip, Yoon will visit Riyadh from Saturday to Tuesday, and hold a summit with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman before attending various economic events.
The summit will come nearly a year after the crown prince visited Seoul last November and the two countries' businesses signed 26 memorandums of understanding on projects worth some US$29 billion.
President Yoon Suk Yeol (R) and first lady Kim Keon Hee pose for a photo before departing from Seoul on Air Force One for state visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar on Oct. 21, 2023.
On the second leg of his trip, Yoon will visit Doha from Tuesday to Wednesday and hold a summit with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Yoon will be the first South Korean president to make a state visit to either nation.
"As Saudi Arabia and Qatar are two of our main trading partners in the Middle East, and key players in regional politics and the regional economy, friendly cooperation with these nations is essential to our economy and national security," Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo said during a press briefing Thursday.
"Through the upcoming trip, we will reinforce our existing cooperative relationship with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and explore new areas of cooperation. Now, our partnership with the Middle Eastern region will go beyond energy and construction to a new stage that encompasses hydrogen, IT, autos, shipbuilding, renewable energy, culture, entertainment and other future industry sectors," he said.
Yoon's trip comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region caused by the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
"Given that the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which is walking on thin ice, is directly connected to peace in the Middle East and the regional order, we expect there to be discussions on the security situation during the summits with Saudi Arabia and Qatar," Kim said.
In Riyadh, Yoon will also attend a South Korea-Saudi Arabia investment forum, give a lecture to students at King Saud University and take part in a South Korea-Saudi Arabia technology forum attended by scientists from both nations.
In addition, he will attend a ceremony marking 50 years of construction cooperation between the two countries and attend the annual Future Investment Initiative forum as a guest of honor to explain South Korea's appeal as an investment partner, and discuss the present and future of cooperation between South Korea and the Middle East.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (R) and Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman hold a luncheon meeting at the presidential residence in Seoul on Nov. 17, 2022, in this file photo provided by the presidential office.
From Riyadh, Yoon will head to Doha on Tuesday. The two-day state visit will come as the two countries are set to mark the 50th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations next year.
In addition to holding a summit with the emir, Yoon will visit the 2023 International Horticultural Exposition, including the South Korean pavilion, attend a bilateral business forum joined by some 300 business leaders from both countries and visit Education City to speak with young Qatari leaders.
"Through the upcoming visit to Qatar, we plan to expand our cooperation, which has been centered on energy and construction, to investment, defense, agriculture, culture and people-to-people exchanges, and push for cooperation programs that will enable our people to feel the benefits," Kim said.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar together account for 38 percent of South Korea's crude oil imports and 21 percent of its gas imports.
Choi Sang-mok, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, told reporters the president plans to use the two summit meetings to discuss ways to stabilize oil and gas supplies amid growing uncertainty and oil price volatility caused by the wars in Ukraine and Israel.
Yoon is accompanied by a 130-member business delegation to Saudi Arabia and a 59-member business delegation to Qatar.
The delegation to Riyadh will include Samsung Electronics Executive Chairman Lee Jae-yong, Hyundai Motor Group Executive Chair Euisun Chung, GS Group Chairman Huh Tae-soo and other leaders of conglomerates.
Yoon will return home early Thursday. He is accompanied on the trip by first lady Kim Keon Hee.
Source: Yonhap News Agency