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Yoon leaves for Madrid to attend NATO summit

Yoon to attend Korea-US-Japan meeting on sidelines of the summit

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (right), alongside first lady Kim Keon-hee, waves at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday, ahead of his five-day trip to Spain for the NATO summit on his first overseas trip as president. (Yonhap)
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (right), alongside first lady Kim Keon-hee, waves at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday, ahead of his five-day trip to Spain for the NATO summit on his first overseas trip as president. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol left for Madrid on Monday to attend the NATO summit and will be the first Korean president to participate in the Western military alliance gathering. He seeks to strengthen security ties with Western countries and to rally the international community’s support for North Korea’s denuclearization.

South Korea was for the first time invited to the NATO summit, which takes place from Tuesday to Thursday as an Asia-Pacific partner along with Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

As Yoon’s first overseas visit as president, the event marks his debut on the multilateral diplomatic stage.

“I’m leaving for Madrid today to attend the NATO summit,” Yoon wrote Monday on his official Twitter account. “Through this occasion, I look forward to building a comprehensive network with our NATO and other like-minded partners to protect our economy, security and solidarity that’s based on our shared liberal democratic values.”

During the trip, Yoon will hold a total of 14 diplomatic meetings, including nine bilateral meetings with NATO allies and partners; talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Spain’s King Felipe VI; and a luncheon meeting with Spanish business leaders.

Three-way talks between South Korea, the US and Japan are set for Wednesday, where they will discuss security cooperation related to North Korea. The trilateral discussion is the first such gathering since the UN General Assembly in September 2017, at the beginning of the previous Moon Jae-in administration.

President Yoon and Japanese Prime Minster Fumio Kishida will not hold a bilateral meeting, Seoul’s presidential office confirmed Sunday. The heads of the four Asia-Pacific nations in attendance are also unlikely to have a separate summit.

However, Yoon’s and Kishida’s schedules will overlap at least three times, including a dinner hosted by King Felipe, a meeting of the North Atlantic Council and the Korea-US-Japan summit.

As for bilateral meetings, Yoon will hold talks with Finland on Tuesday; the Netherlands, Poland and Denmark on Wednesday; and the Czech Republic on Thursday. He will also meet briefly with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the leaders of Canada and Romania, respectively.

Economic and security issues such as nuclear exports with the Czech Republic, Poland and the Netherlands; semiconductors with the Netherlands; defense industries with Poland; and renewable energy with Denmark are expected to be on the agenda.

Yoon also reaffirmed Western countries’ broad support for North Korea’s complete denuclearization. He will deliver a three-minute speech at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council to urge the international community to support North Korea’s denuclearization.

Accompanied by first lady
First lady Kim Keon-hee will also accompany Yoon on the trip to attend separate sessions for leaders’ spouses at the NATO summit. It will be the first time Kim appears as first lady on the international diplomatic stage.

Starting with a dinner hosted by King Felipe at the Royal Palace of Madrid on Tuesday, Kim will then go on a palace tour and visit the royal glass factory and Reina Sofia Museum on Wednesday.

She will also attend a Spanish-Korean dinner meeting with Yoon on Wednesday evening. On Thursday, the last day, she will visit the royal opera house to watch a rehearsal.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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