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S. Korea vows strong Ukraine ties

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SEOUL — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said Thursday Seoul would keep strong ties with Ukraine and a “smooth” relationship with Russia, while ruling out direct weapon shipments to Kyiv.

As a major arms exporter, Seoul has long been asked by US and European allies to do more to help Kyiv.

But Yoon told reporters it was his “firm stance” not to provide lethal weapons to countries in conflict.

Yoon said his country was doing its “best to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution.”

Yoon said his country’s ties with Moscow had been strained by what Seoul and ally Washington say are arms shipments from North Korea to Russia, for use in Ukraine. 

“North Korea’s export of offensive weapons not only supports the illegal waging of war in relation to Ukraine, but also clearly violates UN Security Council sanctions resolutions related to North Korea’s nuclear weapons,” Yoon said.

But despite tensions with Moscow over purported arms deals with North Korea, Yoon said he would work with Russia.

“Russia is a country with which we have had a good relationship for a long time,” he said.

“Due to the recent war with Ukraine, we have different positions regarding the introduction of weapons to North Korea,” he added.

“As for our relationship with Russia, we will cooperate on a case-by-case basis, and we may oppose or be wary depending on differences in position, but we will manage our relationship with Russia as smoothly as possible.”

He declined to answer a question as to what he would consider a “red line” for Seoul to review its non-lethal weapons policy on Ukraine.

Seoul has long harbored ambitions to join the ranks of the world’s top arms exporters — aiming to be the fourth largest, behind the United States, Russia and France — something that is now possible, industry research indicates.

It has also sold artillery shells to Washington — but with a “final user” agreement in place meaning only the United States can use the munitions.

Experts have said this allows the United States to then provide their own shells to Kyiv.

Hostilities in the 1950 to 1953 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, and Seoul remains technically at war with nuclear-armed Pyongyang.

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