ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol received an honor guard welcome Sunday on a trip to the United Arab Emirates as he hopes to expand its military sales here.

“I think that the situation in the Middle East is changing very rapidly when it comes to geopolitics,” said June Park, a fellow with the International Strategy Forum at Schmidt Futures. “So Korea wants to make sure some of the strategic partnerships and the components … with the UAE.”

An honor guard of traditionally dressed Emiratis greeted Yoon and his wife, Kim Keon Hee. They twirled model Lee-Enfield rifles alongside troops on camelback and horseback. Inside, a military band played the South Korean and Emirati national anthems.

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While energy-hungry South Korea does rely on the Emirates for just under 10% of its crude oil supply, Seoul has struck a series of deals far beyond oil with this nation of seven sheikhdoms that closely tie the nation to Abu Dhabi. South Korea’s trade with the UAE is into the billions of dollars worth of cars, material and other goods.

Before Yoon’s trip, officials described the visit as seeking to solidify the ties already between the two countries.

“This visit will strengthen strategic cooperation with our brother country UAE in the four core cooperative sectors of nuclear power, energy, investment and defense,” said Kim Sung-han, director of national security in Yoon’s government.

On Saturday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted an anonymous presidency official as also saying that an arms deal was planned.

“The atmosphere is extremely ripe for security or military cooperation between South Korea and the UAE involving the arms industry,” the official said, according to Yonhap.

But South Korea’s biggest project remains the Barakah nuclear power plant, Seoul’s first attempt to build atomic reactors abroad. The $20 billion facility, which ultimately will have four reactors, is in the UAE’s western deserts near the Saudi border and one day will account for nearly a quarter of all of the Emirates’ power needs.

“The energy policy took on a 180 degree shift” after the election, said Park, the analyst. “So Korea is now for nuclear and I guess that the Yoon administration wants to make sure to the Emiratis that there is no concern regarding policy shifts or anything like that.”

However, a crackdown has seen their numbers drastically drop as nations stopped renewing their visas. A recent U.N. expert report did note that high-end camera gear bought in the UAE ended up in North Korea, while another mentioned a North Korean national living in Dubai obtaining foreign currency through an online app by lying about his nationality.

The U.N. also said as recently as 2021 it had information about North Korean diplomats in Iran flying on Dubai-based long-haul carrier Emirates smuggling gold with them.

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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