By Lee Haye-ah
(ATTN: UPDATES with outcome of meeting; CHANGES headline, photos)
SEOUL, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- President Yoon Suk-yeol and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Thursday they hope to strengthen their countries' cooperation in the infrastructure, energy, and defense sectors, and agreed to set up a committee between the leaders to oversee related projects.
Yoon and the crown prince met at the new presidential residence in Seoul's Hannam-dong neighborhood for an expanded meeting involving officials from both sides, a one-on-one meeting, and an official lunch, according to the office.
Prince Mohammed was on a one-day official visit to South Korea to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
"President Yoon assessed that Saudi Arabia is a key partner for our economic and energy security as our biggest trading partner in the Middle East and partner nation in overseas construction," the presidential office said in a press release.
Yoon also said now is the optimal time to elevate the bilateral relationship to a new level as Saudi Arabia moves to open a new future through the crown prince's Vision 2030, a road map for moving the country away from an oil-centric economy.
"He looked forward to the two countries further expanding and developing their investment cooperation in new growth areas, participation in mega projects like Neom, defense industry cooperation, development of hydrogen and other future energy, and cooperation in cultural exchanges and invigorating tourism," the office said.
Neom is a $500 billion project initiated by the crown prince in 2017 to develop eco-friendly and smart cities in Saudi Arabia's northwestern Tabuk Province. South Korean businesses have been keen to win infrastructure projects in connection with Neom.
The presidential office said Prince Mohammed noted the large contributions South Korean companies have made to his country's infrastructure and expressed his wish to strengthen cooperation with South Korea in the process of realizing Vision 2030, especially in the areas of energy, defense, and infrastructure and construction.
In the energy sector, the crown prince cited cooperation in hydrogen energy development, carbon capture technology, and small modular reactors, while in defense, he voiced hoped for cooperation in both hardware and software to help strengthen Saudi Arabia's national defense capabilities, according to the office.
In infrastructure, he asked for the active participation of South Korean businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, in helping realize Vision 2030, it said.
The two sides agreed to further develop the bilateral relationship to a "future-oriented strategic partnership" and to establish a "strategic partnership committee" between Yoon and the crown prince to more systematically pursue the two countries' cooperation projects.
"They also agreed to further strengthen cooperation through the South Korea-Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 committee to produce tangible outcomes in various areas, such as energy cooperation, investment cooperation, defense cooperation, cultural exchange, people-to-people exchange, and tourism," the office said.
While exchanging views on regional issues, Prince Mohammed highly assessed the South Korean government's efforts to deter North Korean threats and induce its denuclearization, saying Saudi Arabia firmly supports South Korea and its "audacious initiative" that offers massive economic assistance in exchange for the North's denuclearization commitment.
The two leaders strongly condemned North Korea's recent provocations and agreed to respond firmly in the event North Korea carries out a seventh nuclear test or other serious provocation as members of the Group of 20 and responsible members of the international community.
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