NATIONAL

Foreign minister may add Libya to Mideast trip

By 신혜인
  • Published : Feb 1, 2011 - 17:33
  • Updated : Feb 1, 2011 - 17:33
South Korea’s foreign minister will meet his counterparts in the United Arab Emirates and Algeria next week, during which he is also seeking to visit Libya to patch up a months-long diplomatic row, the ministry here said.

“We are currently discussing the details with the Libyan government so that the minister can visit the country upon his trip to the Middle East,” a ministry official said, asking not to be named as the plans are yet to be finalized.

According to the ministry’s official announcement, Minister Kim Sung-hwan will meet with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan and Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci during his Feb. 5-10 trip, discussing bilateral ties and other pending issues between Korea and the Middle East.

Kim’s purported visit to Libya would officially put an end to the once strained ties between the two countries over a Seoul intelligence official’s suspected espionage activities that led to the withdrawal of the staff from the country’s diplomatic mission in Seoul. Kim will be the first high-ranking South Korean official to visit the country since the case broke out last year.

The two countries have been escalating efforts to mend ties since September, when ruling party lawmaker and President Lee Myung-bak’s elder brother Lee Sang-deuk met with Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, agreeing to increase economic exchanges. Libya is a major construction market for South Korea.

Shortly after Lee’s visit, Libya freed two South Koreans it had been holding captive over alleged religious law violation since last year and reopened its mission. The North African state has also indicated it will upgrade it to a full embassy soon, according to the Foreign Ministry here.

In a bid to renew bilateral relations, South Korea recalled its ambassador from the North African nation and is expected to send a new envoy sometime this year.

South Korea and Libya forged diplomatic ties on Dec. 29, 1980.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)