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With UAE Nuclear Partnership, South Korea Gains Mideast Traction

Monday, July 30, 2012

Earlier this month, Abu Dhabi officially green-lighted construction of its first nuclear power plant, under the stewardship of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), at the Braka site located just west of the Emirati capital. The historic construction marks the first nuclear power plant on the Arabian Peninsula and highlights how the oil-flush region has been forced to recalibrate its energy strategy in light of soaring demand for electricity. The move also acts as a soft hedge against the potential weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program, which is a primary security concern for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). For Seoul, it represents a successful first step toward establishing itself in the region as a trusted energy and commercial partner.

Seoul’s ties with the UAE became a top-tier priority after KEPCO beat out a Japanese-American consortium in 2009 for the lucrative multibillion-dollar deal to build four nuclear reactors for the emirates by 2020. The contract, reported to be worth nearly $40 billion, was a key foreign policy coup for South Korea and another sign that it is able to forge new partnerships in regions where it previously had little diplomatic capital. The contract remains the linchpin of bilateral relations between Seoul and Abu Dhabi, but South Korea is quickly moving to challenge Japan’s established influence in the Middle East through its aggressive style of business diplomacy. The move also sends notice to China that its targeted approach to seeking energy security in Africa has consequences, with established partners in the Middle East looking elsewhere for potential relationships.  ...

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