Former South Korean Defence Minister Kim Tae-Young. Photo: AFP / Kim Jae-hwan

An ex-defense minister for former President Lee Myung-bak has disclosed the existence of a secret military agreement between South Korea and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to a report by the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

The revelation follows growing speculation in South Korea on the reasons for a flurry of hasty diplomatic exchanges between the two nations since December.

Kim Tae-young, Lee’s defense minister from September 2009 to December 2010, reportedly told JoongAng in an exclusive interview on Sunday that the military deal was signed so South Korea could win a lucrative contract to build a still-unfinished nuclear plant in the UAE.

“Kim admitted during the interview that there was a secret military pact, which includes a clause that guarantees the Korean military’s automatic intervention in an emergency in the UAE. It was the first time that a member of the Lee administration spoke about the deal made in 2009 to win the nuclear plant bid,” JoongAng said.

The newspaper also reported on Monday that an influential adviser to the royal family of the UAE had arrived in Seoul. South Korea’s government didn’t give an explanation for the visit.

Im Jong-seok, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s chief of staff, also made an unexplained visit to the Persian Gulf nation last month.

Opposition politicians allege the sudden diplomatic trips were triggered after the current Moon Jae-in government tried to change the terms of the deal that governs the use of a contingent of about 150 South Korean troops stationed in the country. The soldiers were officially sent as part of a military assistance mission.

The unit includes Special Forces and counterterrorism troops. Their deployment to the UAE was approved by legislators on December 8, 2010. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote.

Critics say the pact, if it guarantees automatic military intervention on behalf of the UAE government, amounts to a mutual defense treaty which requires National Assembly ratification.