Iran envoy tells Korea to avoid new sanctions

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Iran envoy tells Korea to avoid new sanctions


Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Bakhtiari in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo in Seoul yesterday. By Oh Jong-taek

Korea will shoot itself in the foot if it follows the U.S. in applying stricter sanctions on Iran, the ambassador of the Middle East country to Seoul warned yesterday.

In an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Mohammad Reza Bakhtiari warned that Korea will risk losing substantial economic benefits in Iran if it follows the U.S. lead.

“If restrictions are going to be taken by the other party, we are not going to sit idle,” he said.

This was Bakhtiari’s first interview with local media after the UN announced new sanctions on Iran July 9 for failing to comply with international nonproliferation obligations. The top sanctioning envoys from the U.S., Robert Einhorn and Daniel Glaser, came to Seoul earlier this week to seek cooperation in expanding and strengthening existing sanctions on both Iran and North Korea.

Bakhtiari said Seoul’s response to Washington’s request will be a barometer of the future of the Korea-Iran relationship, which he called a “solid friendship.”

The two countries had bilateral trade of $10 billion last year, apart from construction projects by South Koreans worth around $7 billion. In the first five months of 2010, trade was already $6 billion.

The money Korea is making in Iran, Bakhtiari said, could be on the chopping block.

“Whoever is exerting or applying any sanction on Iran, first of all they are depriving themselves of good potential business opportunity,” he said, “and the huge Iranian market that exists there and is open to everybody to enjoy the benefits of it.”

He said there are many “parties” around the world showing interest in doing new business in Iran. There are “many competitors who might replace (South Korea),” he said

He warned that major Korean companies wouldn’t be the only ones to suffer, but also around 2,000 small- and mid-sized Korean companies will be hurt. He claimed it will affect the livelihoods of around 150,000 South Koreans.

Asked whether Iran’s response to Korean sanctions could include the suspension of oil supplies, which is the country’s biggest fear, he encouraged Korea to use “prudence” and “rationality” in its decision.

They are “two important elements before taking any decision,” Bakhtiari said.

Asked about a reported U.S. request to shut down the Seoul branch of Bank Mellat, the only Iranian bank in Korea, because of suspicions of the bank’s involvement in Iranian nuclear proliferation, Bakhtiari said the bank has never committed illegalities.

“We believe that the Bank Mellat Seoul Branch, ever since opening here, has had very healthy banking operations and transactions,” he said.

Bakhtiari said the U.S. is very adept at fabricating documents, adding that both the U.S. and Korea will have to show legitimate evidence to be able to levy legitimate sanctions.

“There might be some difficulty, but we are not going to die out,” he said.

By Chun Su-jin, Moon Gwang-lip []
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