EghtesadOnline: A senior South Korean diplomat, who has been engaged in talks with the United States over Iran sanctions, said Seoul is hopeful that humanitarian trade with Tehran will come back on track in the near future.
Hong Jin-wook, director general for South Korean Foreign Ministry’s African and Middle Eastern Affairs Bureau, who last month led a delegation to the US for talks over the sanctions on Iran, made the remarks in a recent interview with Financial Tribune.
He expressed concern about the escalation of tensions between Tehran and Washington, and its pressure on “cordial” and “friendly” ties between Iran and South Korea, stressing that his country is determined to preserve the “longstanding” relationship despite the current difficult circumstances.
The South Korean official said he recently visited the US with the aim of exploring ways to uphold mutual business ties during these hard times and met with high-ranking American officials from the US State Department and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is in charge of enforcing sanctions. He discussed solutions to ease humanitarian exports to Iran, which have been affected by the restoration of tough US restrictions after its pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal last year, Financial Tribune reported.
Hong said the negotiations were centered on how to facilitate transactions on non-sanctioned humanitarian goods.
“Discussions are ongoing and we hope that we could resume trade in humanitarian products such as medicines, medical devices and food items soon,” he said.
According to Yonhap News Agency, in the June 20 meeting between American and South Korean delegations attended by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions David Peyman, the two sides reviewed follow-up measures to the US decision in April to end sanctions waivers for imports of Iranian oil by South Korea and other countries.
The talks focused on South Korean companies facing difficulties in exporting medicine, medical equipment and other humanitarian products to Iran through a bilateral transaction system using the Korean currency, won.
The Central Bank of Iran has won-denominated accounts at Woori Bank and the Industrial Bank of Korea in Seoul to receive payments for Iranian oil imports and pay for the export of products to Iran that are not subject to sanctions. Due to the end of sanctions waivers, those accounts have been suspended.
“[Hong] called for the US continued interest and cooperation in addressing our companies’ difficulties related to the export of humanitarian goods using the won-based accounts,” the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a press release at the time.
The US side said it had been reviewing Seoul’s request and would try to provide the results of the review in a prompt manner, it added.
South Korea’s ambassador in Tehran has also said his country's focus is currently on non-sanctioned items such as humanitarian goods, as stiff US sanctions have dramatically squeezed trade in other products.
"Great advancements have been made in Korea in the field of medicine and medical products, enabling us to help Iranians," Ryu Jeong-hyun said in an interview with Tasnim News Agency in May.
Quiet But Practical
On international efforts to defuse tensions between Iran and the US, Hong said his country fully backs any international diplomatic drive in pursuit of a peaceful settlement of the standoff.
He stressed that Seoul sets great store by peace and stability in the Middle East, as many South Korean firms have significant business interests in the region and the bulk of the country’s energy requirements are supplied by Middle Eastern oil producers.
However, the senior diplomat said Seoul has adopted a “quiet but very practical approach” to its efforts to sustain relations with Tehran, despite unfavorable external surroundings.
He said the regular exchange of visits and meetings between the two countries’ senior experts, such as the recent trip by the head of the Central Bank of Iran to Seoul, are in line with this practical posture.
He also said CBI Governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, who visited the South Korean capital to take part in a gathering of chief international bankers, was the only foreign dignitary to meet South Korean Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Hong Nam-ki, indicating the importance of relations between Tehran and Seoul.
On the new direction taken by Seoul in its foreign policy toward closer engagement with influential regional actors, Hong said, “We should admit that we have not properly diversified our foreign relations so far and our focus has been mainly on major powers in our region.”
“But now, we aim to change the situation and we are eagerly pursuing a diplomatic policy of diversification to develop relations with various countries,” he said.
Iran has a special place in this policy, in view of its longstanding partnership with the Republic of Korea and the fact that the major Middle Eastern power enjoys a high potential for growth and is rich in natural and human resources, he added.