Korean Ambassador: “I leave behind strong bilateral relations.” [Archives:1998/51/Law & Diplomacy]

December 21 1998

On the 28th of this month, Korean Ambassador Pak Hi Joo leaves Sanaa for good. He has the sad distinction of being the last ambassador of the Republic of Korea in Yemen.
On this occasion, Hatem Ba-Mehriz of Yemen Times talked to him. Excerpts:
Q: This is a sad moment, I see you have cleared up your office. How was the decision to close down your embassy in Sanaa taken and why?
A: I am sorry the office is messy. We are packing up. As you may know, the Korean government made a decision to close down twenty embassies worldwide, including the one in Yemen. The reason is purely financial.
We have economic difficulties in my country. Starting one year ago, we began facing very difficult financial and economic problems. So we are trying to reorganize ourselves and our activities.
I did not want to take the bad role as the last ambassador here, but I have to follow government instructions. It is very sad that we have to close the embassy, but I am sure when our economy recovers, we will be back.
Q: Meanwhile who is going to take care of business here?
A: Our ambassador in Saudi will serve as a non-resident Korean ambassador to Yemen. Two weeks ago, I went to Riyadh and discussed the work of our embassy and the Yemeni-Korean relations. In a short time, there will be more visitors from our embassy in Riyadh to Sanaa.
Q: I also understand that you have appointed an honorable consul?
A: Yes, my government has nominated a prominent Yemeni businessman as our honorary consul. He will definitely enhance the understanding and cooperation between our two countries. That person is Mr. Nabil Hayel Saeed, General Manager of Natco.
Q: As you leave, how do you assess our bilateral relations?
A: The relationship between our two countries has been excellent. The Yemenis are famous in Korea because of your re-unification. We too are trying to re-unify our country, and we have been studying all re-unification models.
I tried to enhance economic relations, but that was difficult. Yet, there are some success stories. My country started to make small donations to Yemen in such fields as medical supplies, sports, etc. We now have a very big project. Korea will provide a soft loan of US$ 50 million to finance telephone line expansions. Already, a US$ 200,000 donation has been allocated to carry out the feasibility study.
Q: What about the cultural relations?
A: We have tried but not successfully. Frankly speaking, difficulty in cultural cooperation exists not only between Yemen and Korea, but between the whole Arab World and Korea.
We need to work on this.
Q: I am sure there is room in sports?
A: Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and it is popular in Yemen. Every year, the embassy used to sponsor a nation-wide championship in taekwondo. Last year a taekwondo coach came to Yemen and stayed for more than one month to training Yemen ahtletes.
Q: Where is your new post?
A: I am going as ambassador to one of the Latin American countries (Peru). A Yemeni friend told me ” You are moving from one historical country to another.”
Q: What is your impression of Yemen?
A: Firstly, I want to express my appreciation to the kindness of the Yemeni people and the good cooperation I received from the Yemeni government. I spent three years of my life in Yemen were very unique and an enriching experience.
When I first came here, I was a little bit worried because this was the first time for me to serve in the Middle East. Now I am happy as I successfully complete my mission. I like Yemen and the Yemeni people. You can count on me as a friend of Yemen. I will do my best to increase the understanding and interests between our countries.