South Korea Downgrades President Shimon Peres' Visit to 'Working' Status Following Flotilla Debacle

Israel's diplomatic isolation in the wake of last week's Gaza flotilla incident is worsening. South Korea has decided to lower the status accorded to President Shimon Peres' visit this week to the South Korean capital, Seoul. Following Arab and Muslim pressure, Peres' visit, which his office had initially said would be accorded the status of a state visit, is now being given the lower status of a routine working visit by the Koreans.

The visit is expected to prompt a wave of demonstrations, and the South Koreans have even hinted that it might be better if Peres, who is scheduled to leave Israel today, would postpone the trip. On Saturday, Vietnam asked that Peres' visit to that country be postponed against the backdrop of the anti-Israel atmosphere. Peres is determined, however, to proceed with the trip to Seoul, despite any embarrassment over the lower status.

The visit's lowered status will mean that the presidential dinner scheduled for Peres at the South Korean president's residence, to which dozens of guests had been invited including high-ranking representatives from government and business, will now be a private dinner involving 12 people from each country. A series of memoranda of understanding that the two presidents were to sign will now be signed on Israel's behalf either by Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer or his ministry's director general.

A pro-Palestinian organization in South Korea has managed to obtain a copy of Peres' schedule, including the hotel where he will be staying. The group called for demonstrations at the site, increasing the pressure on the South Korean government and prompting a decision to increase security for the visit and to change the schedule, including dropping a ceremony at which Peres was to be awarded an honorary doctorate from a university in Seoul, where he was also due to meet with students.

Parties who have been dealing with the arrangements called the lowering of the visit's status "insulting," though sources close to Peres sought to minimize the impact.