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Yoon arrives in Madrid, gears up for NATO summit

Yoon, first lady make surprise visit to reporters on flight to Spain

Accompanied by first lady, President Yoon Suk-yeol talk to reporters during the flight en route to Madrid, Spain at around 2 a.m. on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Accompanied by first lady, President Yoon Suk-yeol talk to reporters during the flight en route to Madrid, Spain at around 2 a.m. on Tuesday. (Yonhap)


MADRID -- President Yoon Suk-yeol arrived in Madrid late Monday night to attend the NATO summit. Despite being his first overseas trip, Yoon remained casual and calm with reporters on the presidential plane.

Before touching down in the Spanish capital, Yoon and first lady Kim Keon-hee surprised the press pool of about 100 journalists and video crew by meeting them in their section during the flight. He took turns shaking hands and talking with them for about 10 minutes. Kim later also greeted the press pool briefly.

When asked about his mindset on his first tour, Yoon responded: “Should I have come with a particular mindset?” He also said he was “not at all” nervous ahead of the trip.

As for the numerous bilateral and multilateral summits he is scheduled to attend, Yoon said the multilateral talks will be short because of limits on time.

“We don’t have a lot of time, so I think it’ll be like, ‘Let’s get to know each other, check simple issues and see you again next time,’” said Yoon, who is scheduled to meet with the leaders of a slew of major European countries at the summit. The allotted time for each meeting is typically around 30 minutes.

He will hold talks with Australia 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.

A meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto scheduled for Tuesday has been canceled, the presidential office confirmed Monday night. Instead, he will meet with Australia Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as the first on the agenda.

When asked how he spent the 14-hour flight he replied, “Isn’t there Premier Soccer and UEFA? I watched some of that,” adding that he also did some reading.

Kim, in a white-collared dress, said hello to reporters but did not respond to questions. It marked the first time that Kim has greeted reporters since Yoon took office.

Upon arrival, Yoon was met by Javier Salido, the Asia-Pacific bureau chief of Spain’s Foreign Ministry.



Talks with Australian, NATO leaders



On Tuesday, Yoon is set to greet Australia Prime Minister Albanese in the first of a long string of summit meetings.

Australia, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand are four Asia-Pacific partners that have been invited to the NATO summit.

As Australia’s participation in the NATO summit is seen as part of moves to keep China in check, Indo-Pacific strategy is likely to be discussed at the Korea-Australia summit. The nation is also a member of the Quad, a four-nation military consultative body formed by the US along with Japan and India to counter China’s maritime expansion policy.

Resource diplomacy is also to be on the agenda for Korea and Australia. Former President Moon Jae-in held a summit with former Prime Minister Scott Morrison last December and signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the supply chain of key minerals.

Yoon also meets with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg before attending a gala dinner hosted by Spain’s King Felipe VI.

At the meeting, they are set to discuss measures to cooperate in the economic, human rights and technology sectors with NATO members in terms of “comprehensive security.”

The NATO summit will adopt its new Strategic Concept that includes measures to respond to challenges including not only Russia’s threat, but also China’s growing influence. Attention is being paid to whether Yoon will discuss security concerns related to China -- Korea’s biggest economic partner -- in his meeting with the NATO secretary-general.

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 administration.



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