Yoon departs for Spain to attend NATO summit

June 27, 2022

President Yoon Suk-yeol departed for Spain on Monday to attend a NATO summit and meet with world leaders to discuss security and economic issues on his first overseas trip as president.

South Korea is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) but has been invited as a partner nation, along with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Yoon will be the first South Korean president to attend a NATO summit.

On the sidelines, Yoon plans to hold a three-way summit Wednesday with U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the first such gathering in four years and nine months since the last meeting was held in September 2017.

However, an anticipated one-on-one meeting with Kishida will not take place, officials said, as protracted rows over historical disputes, such as wartime forced labor and sexual slavery, still weigh on relations between the two countries.

Other events Yoon plans to attend in Madrid include bilateral summits with the leaders of Finland, NATO, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Britain; a gala dinner hosted by Spanish King Felipe and Queen Letizia on Tuesday; a dinner with South Korean residents in Spain on Wednesday; and a lunch meeting with Spanish businesspeople on Thursday.

First lady Kim Keon-hee will travel together with Yoon.

Yoon’s attendance at the NATO summit will achieve three purposes, including strengthening the “value alliance” based on a liberal democracy with the 30 NATO member states and partner nations, according to National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han.

The president will also build the foundation for a “comprehensive security network” with NATO states and explore ways to effectively respond to emerging security threats, such as cyber and aerospace threats, and climate change, Kim told reporters last week.

On the occasion of the NATO summit, South Korea has announced plans to establish a mission to NATO in Brussels, Belgium, where the organization is headquartered.

During the series of bilateral summits, Yoon will discuss economic issues, such as nuclear power, semiconductors and renewable energy; seek international support for South Korea’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan; and strengthen cooperation over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, presidential officials said.

In addition, Yoon is expected to have pull-aside meetings with the president of the European Commission, and the leaders of Canada and Romania.

No bilateral meeting, including a pull-aside, is planned between Yoon and Kishida, as it is unlikely to produce results, presidential officials said, noting the two countries have yet to hold detailed talks on their historical disputes since the Yoon administration took office on May 10.

The possibility of a bilateral summit was a focus of media attention as it would have been the first between the two countries in 2 1/2 years.

In his speech to NATO members and partner nations on Wednesday, Yoon will recall the history of cooperation between South Korea and NATO since the two sides established a partnership in 2006, presidential officials said.

He will also talk about Europe’s evolving security goals and areas for cooperation between South Korea and NATO states on emerging security issues, and call for NATO’s interest and cooperation with regard to North Korea’s nuclear issue.

First lady Kim will take part in an official program for spouses, including visits to the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, a glass factory and the Reina Sofia Museum.

National Security Adviser Kim will stay behind in Seoul, given the security situation amid concern about a possible North Korean nuclear test.

In the event North Korea carries out such a provocation while Yoon is out of the country, the government has prepared immediate to mid- to long-term response measures under every scenario, including who will preside over a National Security Council meeting in Seoul and how the president will connect virtually, presidential officials said.

The president will return to Seoul on Friday.