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Seoul eyes closer cooperation with Mideast countries — FM

By Mohammad Ghazal - Dec 21,2014 - Last updated at Dec 21,2014

AMMAN — South Korea is directly affected by what happens in the Middle East and is keen on increasing its cooperation with the region’s countries, the Asian country’s top diplomat said Sunday. 

“In our interconnected world, no country or region is insulated from the turbulent waves from the Middle East,” said South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se at the 11th Korea Middle East Cooperation Forum in Amman.

“What takes place in the Middle East immediately impacts our daily lives in many different ways,” Yun said at the event, co-hosted by the Korea-Arab Society, the Arab Thought Forum and JEJU Peace Institute.

There is an increasing economic interdependence between Korea and the Middle East, he noted, as Seoul relies heavily on energy imports, and more than 90 per cent of that comes from the Middle East.

Stressing the Korean government’s keenness on building partnerships in the Middle East, the minister said: ”Going beyond the existing areas of cooperation in energy and construction, we set out for collaboration in new areas — such as IT, nuclear and renewable energy, health and defence.”

“Despite the recent flare-ups in Gaza and its worldwide attention, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer the only dominant conflict today,” he added.

“The core threats to the countries in the Middle East and beyond today include the rise of the Islamic State [IS] in war-torn Syria and volatile Iraq, the challenge of the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programme and uncertainties engulfing North African countries,” Yun said.  

He noted that the region’s problems cannot be fundamentally resolved without addressing the values of human dignity — from the fight against IS to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to other humanitarian emergencies.

Highlighting the large room for increased cooperation between Jordan and South Korea, Planning Minister Ibrahim Saif said trade exchange between the two countries is on the rise, reaching $1.450 billion at the end of 2013.

The two countries have signed several agreements and memoranda of understanding in different areas, he added 

On peace in the region, Saif stressed that resolving the Palestinian issue on the basis of the two-state solution and establishing an independent Palestinian state on the borders of 1967 is the key to stability and security in the Middle East.

He added that Israel’s violations, settlement activities, demolishing of Palestinians’ homes will only lead to more violence and terrorism in the region because of despair among young people.

Saif also urged serious international efforts to combat terrorism in the region and find a just solution to the Palestinian issue as extremist groups take advantage of the lack of a solution to brainwash and recruit young people.

Experts at the forum called for a greater South Korean role in attaining Middle East peace, underlining the importance of exchanging views and expertise in addressing pressing issues facing the region, whose security and stability is crucial to developing ties with South Korea.

In a presentation at the event, Jang Ji-Hyang, research fellow at Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said South Korea needs to play a greater role in the Middle East.

She said that Seoul needs to adopt active policies in the Middle East, adding that it also needs to increase aid provided in this region as the current level is “unimpressive”.

In Nam-sik, professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy, had similar views. 

“We have to deal with the Palestinian issue as quickly as possible. We need to increase our efforts in this regard,” he said at a session during the forum.

Attendees at the gathering discussed several issues including broadening economic cooperation between South Korea and the Middle East, enhancing cultural cooperation and the future of ties between the two sides, among others, Chung Yong-chil, secretary general of the Korea Arab Society, told The Jordan Times.

“This is a very important forum for exchanging views and looking into best means to boost cooperation at different levels,” he said.

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