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Yoon warns at UN that arms deal between North, Russia will be a ‘direct provocation’

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South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday. [AP/YONHAP]
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

President Yoon Suk Yeol warned that an arms deal between between North Korea and Russia would be a “direct provocation” against the South, addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.

“It is paradoxical that a permanent member of the UN Security Council, entrusted as the ultimate guardian of world peace, would wage war by invading another sovereign nation and receive arms and ammunition from a regime that blatantly violates UN Security Council resolutions,” Yoon said, in reference to Russia.

“And if North Korea acquires the information and technology necessary to enhance its WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities in exchange for supporting Russia with conventional weapons, the deal will be a direct provocation threatening the peace and security of not only Ukraine but also the Republic of Korea.”

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a rare bilateral summit in Russia’s Far East, seen as an occasion to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries. This could have provided an opportunity for North Korea and Russia to seal an arms deal in possible violation of UN Security Council resolutions, as Moscow has been looking to replenish its depleted ammunition stockpile amid its war in Ukraine, while Pyongyang has been eager to acquire Russian technologies related to nuclear-powered submarines, missiles and satellites.

Russia is one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.

Yoon, speaking to the 193-member General Assembly, stressed that South Korea, together with its allies and partners, “will not stand by idly.”

South Korea, elected as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2024 to 2025 term, “commits to playing a responsible role in promoting and building global peace,” he added.

Yoon further underscored that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs “pose not only a direct and existential threat to the peace of the Republic of Korea, but also is a serious challenge to peace in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe.”

South Korea is also committed to supporting Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction efforts by providing $300 million dollars next year $2 billion for a mid- to long-term support package, Yoon said, referring to his pledge made at the G20 summit in New Delhi earlier this month.

In his address to the high-level session of the Assembly, Yoon noted that in the face of today’s “multifaceted global crises of an unprecedented scale, divides among countries are widening” in areas including security, economy, technology, health, environment and culture.

The theme of the 78th UN General Assembly was “Rebuilding Trust and Reigniting Global Solidarity.”

Yoon said that South Korea increased next year’s official development assistance (ODA) by more than 40 percent despite its domestic fiscal austerity measures. He said the funds will be allocated to “foster development cooperation tailored to the needs of our partner countries,” including in education, training and other capacity-building measures.

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South Korea also plans to launch a “Carbon Free Alliance,” an open platform to promote the adoption of carbon-free energy, Yoon said, as a part of efforts to reduce climate divide.

He added that South Korea is seeking renewable energy solutions, employing high-efficiency carbon-free energy such as nuclear power and hydrogen in an effort to pursue carbon neutrality, and also plans to share these energy sources with countries vulnerable to climate change,

South Korea is scaling up its green ODA, including contributing an additional $300 million to the Incheon-headquartered Green Climate Fund (GCF), Yoon noted.

He also stressed South Korea’s intention to “play a leading role in bridging the digital divide,” a major cause of economic divide.

“Korea intends to give back to the international community by sharing its experience of economic growth and development, reciprocating the help it has received in the past,” Yoon said, recalling the support South Korea received to rise up from the ruins of the 1950-53 Korean War more than 70 years ago.

Yoon said that South Korea’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo in the port city of Busan, “a gateway that links the Eurasian continent and the Pacific,” could “serve as a platform of solidarity, through which the world citizens can overcome crises and spread freedom together.”

This marks the second consecutive year that Yoon gave an address to the UN General Assembly.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]