President Reuven Rivlin on Monday met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul at the Blue House, the official president’s residence.
Rivlin is in the country for a five-day state visit, the first such visit by an Israeli president since 1992.
The two countries signed Memorandums of Understandings (MOU) in the fields of energy and education.
The two leaders shared lunch and spoke about the growing ties between the countries and where the cooperation can be expanded. Rivlin invited the South Korean president and his wife to visit Israel in the near future.
Rivlin noted that 2018 was a record year for Korean tourism to Israel, with some 45,000 tourists visiting the Holy Land. He also stressed that the full potential is not being realized due to the stringent Korean travel warning about Israel, which he asked to be reexamined, saying that it does not reflect the security situation in Israel.
Touching on the large Christian community in South Korea, Rivlin shared his plan to turn the monasteries in the Jordan Valley into a pilgrimage area which is now accessible due to Israel’s recent clearing of the area from landmines.
Given the similar security challenges facing the two countries, Rivlin noted the potential for strengthening military cooperation. Israel has sold drones to South Korea, and South Korea expressed interest in the Iron Dome defense system.
Rivlin said that Israel would be happy to share insights and knowledge that Israel has developed in facing threats in various fields. He also expressed his appreciation for South Korea’s contribution to the stability of the Middle East and to the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
President Moon said that the State of Israel is an inspiration to him and that he looks with amazement at its achievements over the years. “Your education system and the famous Israeli chutzpah are a model for us,” he said.
He stressed that he sees room for progress in trade relations between the two countries and that the negotiations will be gain momentum in the spirit of the president’s important visit to South Korea.
“I am truly happy and excited to welcome you to the first summit meeting since 2010. Israel and Korea share common democratic and economic values, and our relationship has grown stronger over the years,’ Moon said.
He spoke of the bilateral trade which reached new heights with a trade totaling at $ 2.7 billion last year. The two countries have been negotiating a free trade agreement for several years.
If a free trade agreement is signed, the economic cooperation “will expand and be reflected in greater investment, trade and more. Israel is known as a start-up nation, with the most startups in the world, and I look forward to learning about the Israeli success story,” the Korean leader said,
At lunch, the Rivlin presented his South Korean counterpart with the Baba Kamma tractate of the Talmud, reflecting the profound interest the South Koreas have shown in the study of Talmud. Talmud study is now a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum. It is also said that almost every home in South Korea boasts a Korean version of the Talmud, and mothers commonly teach it to their children, who call it the “Light of Knowledge.”
“Both the Jewish and Korean civilizations are based on education and the study of ancient sources of knowledge, including the Talmud which it is my pleasure to give to you, while always seeking to acquire new knowledge and ideas,” he said.
“I believe that Israel and South Korea can work together to spread the blessings of technology and innovation throughout the Middle East,” said the president. “President Moon, Let us work together to bring our economies, our countries and our peoples closer together. Here with me are our finest brains, leaders of Israel’s finest universities, higher education system and Academy of Science and Humanities, leaders from the public and private sector in the fields of hi-tech, cyber, health and defense. Let us explore the miracles we can make together,” he concluded.