Ryu didn’t rule out the challenges in Tehran-Seoul relationship caused by US sanctions, while expressing hope that the two countries’ good ties wouldn’t be solely limited to the economy.
Following is an excerpt of the interview with the South Korean ambassador:
TASNIM NEWS AGENCY: How do you see the future of Iran-Korea economic cooperation with respect to the importance of trade between the two countries?
Ryu: The announcement by the US on ceasing of issuing waivers to eight countries came as a sudden measure, while we had expected a gradual approach, which would have given us enough time to make changes to our petrochemical industries. Our refineries are designed to refine Iranian condensates and any changes would be time-consuming and costly; therefore, we had asked the US for an extension of waivers.
We are in a difficult situation, in which we are seeking a continuation of trade with Iran through utilizing Iranian reserves in Korean banks, but we’ve received no clear response on this issue from the US. They emphasize getting Iranian trade and oil imports to zero.
We gave them a comprehensive description of the hardships faced by Korean companies. The great volume of trade with the US has put them in a difficult position. While being in need of the important Iranian market, they can’t simply ignore US policies.
Does the issue include big companies, too?
Big firms are not the only ones dealing with this issue. SME’s (small- and medium-sized enterprises) are also grappling with the same challenges. The Korean government puts great emphasis on supporting SMEs so that they can continue trade with Iran, which is again a tough issue since US sanctions also include banking transactions.
Currently, our main focus is on non-sanctioned items such as the ones aimed at serving humanitarian purposes and essential everyday items.
In line with our humanitarian goals, we’ve assisted Iranians dealing with hardships caused by food and medicine shortages. Great advancements have been made in Korea in the field of medicine and medical products, enabling us to help Iranians in distress.
When you refer to trading with non-sanctioned items, do you mean trade through barter, or bank payments?
There are many details involved in this issue. What I can say is that we can currently trade with Iran by focusing on non-sanctioned items, which demands resolving banking issues, which we intend overcome through negotiations with the US. Unfortunately, the US refuses to give a proper response and refers the issue to different governmental bodies.
Are you still in contact with the US over sanctions waivers?
We will continue our contact with the US. Our embassy in the US holds meetings on the issue almost on a daily basis. In the past, Korean diplomacy was focused on superpowers including the US, China, Russia and Japan, but the current administration is advancing with its policy of diversification which includes important regional players such as ASEAN countries in South East Asia, India in South Asia, Iran in the Middle East, and Australia in the Pacific. Strong ties with these countries are of great importance to us and is in line with our national interests.