Korea to seek exemption from Iran sanctions

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Korea to seek exemption from Iran sanctions

Seoul has been in a sticky situation following the independent deployment of Korean troops to the Strait of Hormuz, trying to balance diplomatic and trade relations with Tehran and abide by U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Hong Jin-wook, the Korean Foreign Ministry’s director-general for African and Middle Eastern affairs, headed to Washington Wednesday to meet with U.S. Treasury Department officials and seek partial sanctions exemptions regarding Iran, according to the Korean Foreign Ministry.

Iran has warned that it may take punitive measures against Samsung Electronics in response to the Korean tech giant’s plans to limit app purchases for Iranian users of its Galaxy Store starting from later this month. Iranian officials warned that it is planning to restrict the use of Samsung Electronics mobile phones in the country, accusing the company of bowing to pressure from the United States.

Mohammad Jafar Na’nakar, head of the legal department at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in Iran, said that measures against Samsung could include an entry ban on Samsung Electronics employees or ban on the registration of Samsung mobile phones, reported Iran’s state-run Press TV Tuesday. He warned that Iran could opt for Chinese companies like Huawei as an alternative. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi also posted a photo of a Samsung Electronics banner being removed from a street and warned that foreign companies that leave after caving to pressure from Washington should be aware that returning will be very difficult.

After months of contemplation, the Korean government announced in late January it will deploy its antipiracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman through which more than 70 percent of Korea’s crude oil supply passes, for defensive purposes independent of a U.S.-led maritime coalition. Seoul will expand the operational range of its 300-strong Cheonghae Unit, which has conducted antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden off of the coast of Somalia, to cover the Strait of Hormuz.

The decision was welcomed by Washington, who has pushed for allies to join in the U.S.-led coalition efforts to protect the Strait of Hormuz.

Korea plans to particularly take the example of the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement launched at the beginning of this month which aims to provide a humanitarian channel to bring Swiss food and medicine to Iran without facing issues with U.S. sanctions. The system ensures that Swiss-based companies have a secure payment channel for their exports.

A source told the JoongAng Ilbo the Korean government has been trying to arrange a visit to Iran by at least a vice minister-level Foreign Ministry official.

BY LEE YU-JUNG, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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