South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan agreed on March 25 to upgrade their countries' relationship to a "special strategic partnership," possibly paving the way for a boosting of their ties and economic cooperation to the level of allies.
In a bilateral summit, the two leaders also reaffirmed their agreement to launch regular talks between their senior foreign and defense officials, known as the Two Plus Two Dialogue, along with a new strategic dialogue between their foreign ministers, according to the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
Cheong Wa Dae officials earlier said the Two Plus Two Dialogue is usually held only between allies.
"To support the countries' upgraded relationship, the two leaders agreed to promote strategic dialogue between foreign ministers and annually hold joint economic committee meetings, in addition to the vice minister-level foreign-defense talks, and more regularly discuss pending issues between the two countries," Cheong Wa Dae said in a press release.
Moon arrived here on March 24 on a four-day official visit. It is his first trip to the Middle Eastern country since taking office in May 2017. South Korea and Abu Dhabi established diplomatic ties in 1980. The bilateral relationship was upgraded to a strategic partnership in 2009, shortly after Seoul secured a project worth nearly US$19 billion to build four nuclear reactors in Barakah, UAE.
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi said the countries' relationship remained strong and special but that the countries must further improve them.
"As you may well know Mr. President, the relationship between our two countries is already very strong and special," he said through his interpreter at the start of the summit.
"However, I hope the two countries will not be satisfied and will endlessly study ways to further develop their relationship," the Crown Prince told Moon, according to Cheong Wa Dae pool reports.
More specifically, the UAE leader expressed hope of expanding bilateral cooperation to education, health, welfare and trade, saying he will make "personal" efforts toward that end, Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a press briefing.
Moon said his country hoped to grow together with the UAE.
"Regarding their military and defense industry cooperation, President Moon said South Korea will work together with the UAE ultimately to jointly develop and produce (defense systems) and jointly advance to a third country," the spokesman said.
"In regard to bilateral trade, the president said South Korea exporting goods (to UAE) was not the only important issue, but that the countries must work to jointly explore and advance into other global markets," he added.
Moon's trip here followed an apparent row between the countries over what is believed to be a secret defense agreement signed by Seoul's former Lee Myung-bak administration that could require Seoul's military involvement in armed conflicts in the UAE.
The South Korean president was forced to send his chief of staff as a special envoy to UAE late last year at what Seoul officials earlier called an "urgent" request from the UAE leader to discuss such issues.
Moon insisted the issue had no serious effect on their relationship or only strengthened it.
"The issue did cause some noise but the relationship between the two countries has not been damaged at all. Rather, the South Korea-UAE defense cooperation gained more support from the people of the two countries, and thus we were able to strengthen this defense cooperation," the South Korean president was quoted as saying.
President Moon also expressed satisfaction that many South Korean businesses were currently taking part in UAE's energy development projects, and he asked for the Crown Prince's additional support for and interest in South Korean firms here.
Shortly after their summit, the two leaders attended a signing ceremony for five new memoranda of understanding between their countries. They included an agreement signed by the countries' energy ministers calling for increased cooperation in new and renewable energy industries.
Moon will travel to Dubai on Tuesday for a meeting with Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE, according to Cheong Wa Dae. He returned home on March 27.
Kim Sua firstname.lastname@example.org
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