South Korean president skips face-to-face meeting with Pelosi, sparking controversy

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi concluded his two-day visit to Seoul on Thursday, but his non-in-person meeting with the president has sparked controversy among South Koreans.

Pelosi is the first seated speaker visiting 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 the efforts of the two governments to achieve denuclearization and peace on the peninsula as part of a strong deterrent against North Korea.

However, public criticism soared South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol — who skipped an in-person meeting with Pelosi due to her summer vacation in her country’s capital, Seoul.

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

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, speaks to the media after meeting with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo at the National Assembly on August 28.  4, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea.  (Photo by Kim Min-Hee - Pool/Getty Images)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, speaks to the media after meeting with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo at the National Assembly on August 28. 4, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Kim Min-Hee – Pool/Getty Images)

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Initially, the president’s office told reporters that the meeting between Yoon and Pelosi was not arranged due to Yoon’s planned summer vacation. Then he suddenly said he was coordinating with Pelosi’s office to set up a meeting, but then canceled his announcement again, saying there was no coordination between the two offices.

Although Yoon remained 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 in the trip, she met with leaders from Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan before arriving in Seoul. She should also meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Friday.

South Korea's new President Yoon Suk-yeol waves after the presidential inauguration in front of the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, May 10, 2022.

South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol waves after the presidential inauguration in front of the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, May 10, 2022.
(AP Photo/Lee ​​Jin-man)

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

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

The controversy escalated when Pelosi’s delegation arrived at Osan Air Base on Wednesday, where a photo showed no Seoul officials welcoming him and the delegation there.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, far right, speaks with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo, far left, during their meeting at the National Assembly on Aug. 28, 2019. 4, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, far right, speaks with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo, far left, during their meeting at the National Assembly on Aug. 28, 2019. 4, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea.
(Kim Min-Hee – Pool/Getty Images)

Choi said Pelosi’s counterpart, the Speaker of the National Assembly, was the one who should have been tasked with organizing a welcoming ceremony. He also claimed Pelosi’s office declined a ceremony given the late arrival of his delegation on Wednesday.

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Pelosi’s office has yet to issue a statement on the controversies sparked by criticism directed at the South Korean president by many members of the public.