U.S. Embassy off trackThree officials from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul have made direct contact with three Korean companies, including DSME E&R, an energy affiliate of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, which has been doing business with Iran. The move by the embassy rings an alarm bell for the future of the two allies. It move took place a day after Robert Einhorn, the U.S. State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, visited Korea to ask for cooperation on economic sanctions against Iran.
The three embassy officials, who handle economic affairs, asked the Korean companies about the current status of their trade with Iran and their future business plans. It was reported that the Korean companies were deeply embarrassed by the U.S. officials’ unexpected action. DSME E&R, whose major business involves developing natural resources overseas, replied by saying, “We don’t have a plan to invest in Iran, as the level of U.S. sanctions is high,” which suggests that the company withdrew its Iranian projects under pressure from the embassy.
It is not rare for foreign embassies to make direct contact with local companies with the goal of promoting economic cooperation. But the U.S. Embassy officials’ recent meetings clearly ignore an international standard requiring embassies to go through government channels. An official from the U.S. Embassy confirmed our suspicions by saying that its actions were taken in the same context as the U.S. government’s notification of its new sanctions plan through official channels.
Iran is still suspected of having nuclear ambitions, not to mention a close relationship with North Korea. It is necessary for us to participate in the U.S. government’s efforts to reinforce sanctions against Iran, given that we are not only a strategic security partner of the United States but also a country under a constant nuclear threat from North Korea. Our government was expected to announce a plan for additional sanctions against Iran soon.
Yet the U.S. Embassy chose to make direct contact with private companies without waiting for our government’s official announcement of its sanctions. The diplomatic discourtesy can only be interpreted as dismissive of our sovereignty. Yet we hope that the incident is not a reflection of the United States’ willingness to meddle in Korean affairs, particularly since Korean-American Sung Kim became the U.S. ambassador to Seoul last month.