[Viewpoint] On the fence over Iran

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[Viewpoint] On the fence over Iran

The infamous enmity between the United States and Iran goes as far back as 1953. Pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1951 named the nationalist and anti-Western Mohammed Mossadeq prime minister because of popular demand. Iran’s economy at the time ran entirely on oil riches that mostly went to the British that owned most of oil facilities in the country. The Soviet Union was demanding equal rights to develop northern Iranian oil reserves.

Mossadeq began nationalization of the oil industry. The British resisted and retaliated with an assets freeze. But Mossadeq was undaunted and enjoyed enormous public support. As the oil dispute mushroomed, the Americans interfered. U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower endorsed a coup d’etat supported by the Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow the Mossadeq government.

Mossadeq was imprisoned for three years and died after his release. The Shah, after regaining power, rewarded the Americans with various economic interests in Iran and strengthened his dictatorial rule through surveillance and repression by the notorious secret police Savak. His tyrannical dictatorship was overthrown by the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and replaced by a Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution.

America’s Iranian nightmare began with the collapse of the pro-Washington, pro-West Pahlavi dynasty.

Endless sanctions and a risky confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program continue today with the latest sanctions by the West creating negative repercussions across the European continent as well as to Korea and Japan in the Far East.

Oil interests in the Persian Gulf, Israel’s security and internal divisions in the Middle East are the pillars of U.S.-Iran tensions. Washington’s partiality toward Israel needs no further explaining. Few question that the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a defense funding law that imposed sanctions on financial institutions dealing with Iran’s central bank to squeeze Iran’s vital exports, which are assumed to be funding its nuclear program, largely to get votes and political donations from Jewish groups during this election year.

President Barack Obama, who is running for a second-term, proposed milder sanctions, but politicians on Capitol Hill were intransigent on ganging up on Iran.

Washington, the self-dubbed champion of democratic values and human rights, supports hereditary dictators and monarchies in the Islamic world, despite global criticism over excessive intervention in the region, largely because of the oil riches of the Middle East.

Arab history can be said to have been written in oil rather than ink. President George Bush in 1991 bombed Iraq to force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait largely to protect American oil interests.

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Khomeini and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein fought an exhausting war for eight years from 1980 to win regional hegemony, although neither got it. When George W. Bush attacked and eliminated Saddam Hussein, Iranians were at first galvanized by their freedom. Even with military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington kept a fist up against Tehran. The stalemate continues even after American troops pulled out of Iraq and started slowly drawing down in Afghanistan.

The Arab Spring that brought the democratization movement to Muslim society and toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya was both a boon and a threat to the Tehran government, itself not entirely stable due to different power centers, and it knows it is vulnerable to civilian uprisings organized and powered by Internet mobility.

Iran is taking a cue from North Korea and playing nuclear brinkmanship, raising alarm in Israel and the U.S. over its uranium enrichment program, bringing about today’s diplomatic stalemate.

Japan, the European Union and Australia stood behind the U.S. on its oil embargo move. Korea has been beckoned to join, but cannot easily come down from the fence. Koreans have some $7 billion at stake in Iran.

Over 2,000 companies are doing business in the country. Samsung and LG brands take up 30 percent of the cell phone market there. Seoul is not in the position to entirely side with Washington. There is an exception in the U.S. defense funding law that says countries that have significantly reduced oil imports from Iran can be exempted or gain a grace period on application of the sanctions.

Korea’s imports of crude from Iran plunged 46.5 percent in December from November. The country has been reducing shipments from Iran amid signs of new tensions between Washington and Tehran.

If Korea continues to reduce oil imports and keep transactions with Iranian banks under strict government surveillance, it may capitalize on the exemption clause and sustain trade with Iran. Korean companies can only settle payments with Iran through Woori Bank, the Industrial Bank of Korea and Iran’s central bank, falling into the category of “government surveillance.”

The U.S. is the center of international financial trade. Being cut off from trade with the U.S. would be fatal for any financial institution. It is the strongest nonmilitary weaponry the U.S. can wield.

Even if Washington’s claims of a suspicious nuclear deal between North Korea and Iran are questionable, we must silently and diplomatically work to win exemption from the new sanctions to minimize damage to local industry.

*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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