Controversy escalates over Moon’s chief of staff visit to UAE

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Jan 2, 2018 - 18:07
  • Updated : Jan 2, 2018 - 18:26

 Controversy over a top presidential aide’s visit to the United Arab Emirates last month escalated Tuesday, with speculation emerging that the trip was aimed at resolving bilateral disputes concerning a secret military pact signed during the Lee Myung-bak administration.

Citing former government officials, local daily Hankook Ilbo reported that the Lee administration secretly signed a Mutual Logistics and Service Agreement with the UAE in 2013, under which South Korea is required to provide logistical support for military campaigns, peace-keeping operations and contingency.

The visit by President Moon Jae-in’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok could have been part of an attempt to restore bilateral ties, as the Lee administration had failed to deliver on its commitment under the memorandum of understanding with the UAE, the newspaper reported.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo declined to confirm the report, saying that doing so would raise a “trust issue” with the UAE.

Chief of staff Im Jong-seok (left) and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan shake hands in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 10. Cheong Wa Dae. Yonhap

The revelation appeared to fuel the speculation that the Lee administration had signed a “double contract” with the UAE, under which the administration promised military assistance in return for South Korea’s exports of nuclear reactors to the Middle Eastern country.

Former President Lee denied the allegation. “There was no double contract,” Lee said during a meeting with reporters at his residence Monday. When asked about his views on the purpose of Im’s visit, Lee said he did not intend to “expose” the matter to the public.

Prosecutors said Tuesday they have no plan to investigate the allegation amid an escalating political dispute over the purpose of Im’s visit to the UAE.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea suggested that Im’s trip was aimed at restoring bilateral ties following the Lee administration’s apparent failure to fulfill the military agreement. On the other hand, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said the trip was related to the UAE’s concerns about the government’s policy to phase out nuclear power.

In an interview with local daily Hankyoreh on Sunday, a Cheong Wa Dae official said that if they were to reveal the real purpose of Im’s visit, it would undermine the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, some of whose members include politicians close to Lee.

The controversy first surfaced when a local daily reported that Im paid a visit to the UAE to ease complaints and concerns about the Moon administration’s nuclear power phase-out policy undermining a nuclear power plant project in the UAE.

Chosun Ilbo raised the allegation with a photo showing Im meeting with Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp.’s board of directors, who is in charge of the Barakah nuclear power plant that South Korea is building under a 2009 contract.

According to the report, Al Mubarak asked Im whether South Korea could properly handle the project when the Moon administration is pursuing a nuclear phase-out policy. Im said that there would be no problems.

By Yeo Jun-suk(