Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin on Tuesday met with his Saudi counterpart Crown Prince Salman in Riyadh to sign a defense cooperation pact. The agreement lays the groundwork for expanded military exchanges between the countries.
Saudi Arabia, one of the world's biggest arms buyers, is the 27th nation to forge a defense cooperation pact with Korea.
"Saudi Arabia is a major player in the Middle East and the pact will be greatly beneficial in Korea's military and diplomatic activities in the region as well as exports there," a Defense Ministry official said. The official added that the pact also aims to bolster Korea's access to Saudi oil.
Saudi Arabia's defense budget for 2011 stood at US$46.2 billion, 1.5 times bigger than Korea's. According to U.S. Senate data, Riyadh signed $24.8 billion worth of arms procurement deals between 2004 and 2011, ranking at the top among developing countries.
But Kim is under fire for leaving the country on an overseas visit at a time when North Korea’s third nuclear test appears imminent.
President Lee Myung-bak "did not want to put off the signing of the defense pact until the next government," a ministry official explained.
Kim left Korea on Monday and was supposed to return on Friday, but he cut short his trip and is expected back on Wednesday afternoon.