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South Korean president skips in-person meeting with Pelosi, causing controversy

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrapped up her two-day visit to Seoul on Thursday, but her non-in-person meeting with the president has led to controversy among South Koreans.

Pelosi is the first sitting speaker to visit South Korea since Dennis Hastert visited Seoul in 2002. She met her counterpart, Kim Jin-pyo, the speaker of the National Assembly, and agreed to support both governments’ efforts to achieve denuclearization and peace on the peninsula under strong deterrence against North Korea.

However, public criticism has soared over South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol — who skipped an in-person meeting with Pelosi due to his being on his summer vacation in his nation’s capital, Seoul.

Despite her official visit to Seoul, the South Korean presidential office gave several responses over the meeting with Pelosi.

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Initially the president’s office told reporters that the meeting between Yoon and Pelosi was not arranged because of Yoon’s scheduled summer vacation. Then it suddenly said that it was coordinating with Pelosi’s office to arrange a meeting, but then reversed its announcement again, saying there was no coordination between the two offices.

Although Yoon has been staying at his home in Seoul, his office finally confirmed on Thursday that the two would have a phone call and not a face-to-face meeting. The call between the two lasted 40 minutes.

Earlier on the trip, she met with the leaders of Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan before she arrived in Seoul. She is also expected to have a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday.

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Choi Young-bum, the senior presidential secretary for public relations, said the decision not to have a meeting with Pelosi was made based on “the national interest.” 

However, the official refused to answer further questions from reporters on what “the national interest” referred to in this situation.

Adding to the controversy was when Pelosi’s delegation arrived at Osan Air Base on Wednesday where a photo showed the absence of Seoul officials welcoming her and the delegation on-site.

Choi said that Pelosi’s counterpart, the National Assembly speaker, was the one who should have been responsible for holding a welcoming ceremony. He also claimed that Pelosi’s office turned down a ceremony given her delegation’s late-night arrival on Wednesday.

Pelosi’s office has not yet made a statement over the controversies arising from the criticism aimed at the South Korean president by many in the public there.

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