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(2nd LD) High-ranking UAE official arrives in S. Korea amid speculation about soured ties

All News 17:36 January 08, 2018

(ATTN: CHANGES photo; RECASTS lead; UPDATES with new info in para 8)

SEOUL, Jan. 8 (Yonhap) -- A high-ranking United Arab Emirates official began a two-day visit to Seoul on Monday, raising expectations that he may address growing speculation that Seoul's presidential chief of staff traveled to the Middle Eastern nation last month to secretly settle a dispute between the two countries.

Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi, was one of the UAE officials who attended a meeting between presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on Dec. 10.

At the time, the presidential office said that Im traveled to the UAE and Lebanon to visit South Korean troops deployed in the countries. But after the trip, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party alleged that the real purpose of the visit was to resolve an embarrassing dispute with the UAE.

The opposition has raised various possibilities, including suspicions that Im's trip was to allay the UAE's concerns about the impact President Moon Jae-in's nuclear-free policy will have on the 2009 deal for South Korea to build and manage nuclear reactors in the Middle Eastern country.

The speculation gained traction as Al Mubarak is also in charge of the reactor project.

The opposition has also alleged that Im's visit could have been to address the UAE's grievances over Seoul's alleged attempts to reduce its troop presence in the country or to revise "secret" mutual military agreements signed under Moon's predecessors.

The presidential office has rejected these suspicions.

Shortly after arrival, Al Mubarak had 30-minute closed-door talks with National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun. During the meeting, he was said to have voiced his desire to continue to develop relations between the two countries.

National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun (R) talks with Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi, in his office at the legislature in Seoul on Jan. 8, 2018, in this photo provided by Chung's office. (Yonhap)

Al Mubarak was also expected to meet Im and pay a courtesy call on President Moon Jae-in.

He is expected to arrange Moon's possible visit to the UAE. During phone talks in June, Moon told the crown prince that he hoped to attend the ceremony to mark the completion of a nuclear reactor built in the country by South Korea.

As chairman of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp., he is also likely to meet Korean business leaders, especially those in the nuclear energy sector.

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