Defense minister heads to Saudi Arabia after visit to Bangkok

BANGKOK-- South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo headed to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to meet with senior officials there to explore ways to further strengthen bilateral defense ties, his office said Tuesday.

After wrapping up his four-day trip to Thailand for the 6th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), Jeong flew to the Middle Eastern country for a five-day official visit at the invitation of Riyadh, according to the defense ministry.

"During the visit, the minister plans to meet with the Saudi crown prince and other senior security and defense officials to discuss ways to develop bilateral defense cooperation," the ministry said.

The trip will reciprocate a June visit to South Korea by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also serves as the country's defense minister, according to the ministry.

Saudi Arabia is South Korea's biggest trading partner in the Middle East and the No. 1 crude oil exporter to Asia's fourth-largest economy.

In Thailand, Jeong met with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, on Sunday, which was dominated by discussions on their intelligence-sharing pact, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which is to expire later this week.

The issue was also a key agenda item for their trilateral talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Holding a joint press conference on Sunday, Jeong and Esper also announced the allies' decision to postpone their wintertime combined air exercises. The pentagon chief called it "an act of goodwill to contribute to an environment conducive to diplomacy and the advancement of peace."

The South Korean minister also sought to enhance defense ties with partner countries by having one-on-one meetings with China, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vietnam.

While visiting an international defense exhibition under way in Thailand, he met with officials from South Korean defense companies and vowed efforts to better support their advance into overseas markets.

During the plenary session of the multilateral event on Monday, Jeong called for the strict adherence to international norms and regulations on unplanned encounters involving military aircraft and vessels so as to better guarantee regional peace.

He also tried to drum up international support for Seoul's efforts to achieve the complete denuclearization of North Korea and to establish a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The two-day multilateral event on regional security on Sunday and Monday brought together high-level defense officials from the ASEAN countries and eight other states -- South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and India.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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