Iran envoy tells Korea to avoid new sanctions

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Iran envoy tells Korea to avoid new sanctions

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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 [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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“유엔 안보리의 대이란 제재는 어차피 국제사회에서 통과된 것이니, 달갑지는 않지만 감수할 수밖에 없다. 그러나 그것 외에 일방적인 추가 제재 압력에 한국이 굴복한다면, 이란과 한국의 관계는 악영향을 받을 수밖에 없을 것이다.”

모하마드 레자 바크티아리(사진) 주한 이란대사는 6일 오후 서울 동빙고동 이란 대사관에서 1시간 동안 진행된 인터뷰 내내 두툼한 A4 서류뭉치를 앞에 놓고 질문에 답했다. 서류 곳곳에는 연두색 형광펜으로 줄이 처져있었다. 배석한 1등 서기관은 대사가 말을 멈출 때마다 다음 단어들을 읊어줬다. 사흘 전 인터뷰 요청을 받은뒤 테헤란 정부와 사전조율을 거쳐 준비된 발언들을 쏟아내는 인상을 줬다. 바크티아리 대사는 ‘제재(sanction)’ 대신 ‘제한(restriction)’이란 단어를 씀으로써 제재에 대한 거부감을 드러냈다.

-한국 정부가 대이란 단독 추가 제재 조치를 취할 경우 이란 정부의 대응은.

“한국이 제3국의 추가적인 제재에 동참할 경우 우리는 가만히 있지 않을 것이다. 내년이면 50주년을 맞을 양국 관계는 건강하지 못한 사이가 될 것이다. 한국에 테헤란로가 있듯이, 이란에는 서울공원과 서울교가 있다. 또 ‘대장금’ 같은 한국 드라마가 높은 인기를 누리는 등 ‘한류’ 바람도 거세다. 이런 양국 관계가 이번 일로 뒷걸음질 치지 않기 바란다. (제재에 대한) 한국 정부의 결정은 양국 관계에 중요한 이정표가 될 것이다.”

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