Wednesday, January 5, 2011

South Korea awards highest diplomatic honour to former PM Nechirvan Barzani

Updated at 2.23pm, 5 January 2011

Seoul, Korea - ( – The former Prime Minister Mr Nechirvan Barzani in Seoul on 28 December received South Korea’s highest honour for contributing to excellent relations with the country and extending its national prestige.

Mr Barzani was invited to Seoul to receive the highest grade of the Gwanghwa Medal, which is a diplomatic service merit awarded by South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak. Previous recipients of the medal were former US presidents Ronald Reagan and Lyndon B. Johnson, British Prime Minister John Major, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, King Hussein of Jordan and Japan’s Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Mr Barzani, who was accompanied by his wife Mrs Nabila Barzani, attended the award ceremony hosted by President Lee at the Blue House, the Presidential office and residence in the Korean capital. The citation at the ceremony stated that Mr Barzani was honoured in recognition and appreciation of his role during his premiership in strengthening South Korea’s relations with Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

In a meeting after the ceremony, President Lee thanked Mr Barzani for strengthening his country’s relations not only with the Kurdistan Region but with all of Iraq, for supporting the work of the Korean forces and of KOICA, Korea’s development agency, and for encouraging Korean companies to do business in Iraq.

Mr Barzani said, “It is a great honour for me to be awarded this medal, I am pleased to have been able to establish excellent relations with South Korea.” He asked President Lee to encourage more Korean companies to work in the Kurdistan Region and use it as a safe entry point for all of the Iraqi market, and asked that South Korea’s embassy office in Erbil be upgraded to a consulate.

President Lee and Mr Barzani discussed bilateral relations and the political situation in Iraq. President Lee said that he appreciated President Masoud Barzani’s constructive role in Iraq’s government formation process, and the KRG’s support for Christians who are fleeing from violence in other parts of Iraq.

Both expressed their determination that Iraq and South Korea can benefit greatly from closer relations, as Iraq has much to learn from South Korea’s very positive post-war economic and political experience.

This was Mr Barzani’s third meeting with South Korea’s president. Under Mr Barzani’s premiership, the Kurdistan Region rapidly developed excellent cultural, political and trade ties. They began when 3,700 South Korean troops were stationed in Kurdistan for four years as part of the coalition forces supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mr Barzani appreciated KOICA’s reconstruction efforts and invited South Korean companies to work in the Kurdistan Region in infrastructure, IT, and oil and gas. Several citizens of Kurdistan also received KOICA scholarships to study at Korea’s universities.

In the safe and secure Kurdistan Region where not a single coalition soldier has been injured or killed, the Korean army’s Zaytun Division was able to focus on humanitarian assistance, such as vocational training classes and the construction of schools, which were greatly appreciated by the people and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The Korean government also donated a large new library in Kurdistan’s capital city.

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