Seoul’s painful decision
Iran advised to join in WMD non-proliferation
Seoul's decision to sanction Iran drew praise from the United States but disappointed the Islamic country. The government needs to assuage Tehran's anger through diplomatic channels. Korea has no choice but to sacrifice economic benefits for the greater cause of preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The government Wednesday asked all companies to get approval in doing business with Iran. It also blacklisted 102 Iranian entities and 24 individuals for their suspicious role in the WMD proliferation. This is in line with the U.S. Security Council Resolution 1929.
The Seoul branch of the Iranian Bank of Mellat is to suspend business for two months for its violation of the Foreign Currency Law. All financial transactions exceeding 60 million won must get prior approval from the government. Korea will continue to import Iranian oil despite the sanction.
Seoul's action was quite agonizing because annual bilateral trade amounted to $10 billion. The government concluded that respecting the U.N.-led campaign to prevent the WMD proliferation is above its economic benefits. South Korea has no choice but to respect the U.N. sanctions against Iran as the South is under threat from North Korea's nuclear weapons. Without global sanctions, North Korea will be emboldened to mass-produce nuclear weapons. North Korea's nuclear threat is the most serious concern for South Koreans. The South needs international support to thwart the North's adventurism. When Pyongyang attacked the South Korean war ship Cheonan in March, the U.N. joined the sanction against the North.
Korea marks the 48th year of diplomatic relationships with Iran this year. As many as 2,142 Korean companies have been doing business with the nation’s third largest trading partner in the Middle East. Hallyu (Korean Wave) fever is widespread in Iran. Korean court cuisine drama (Jewel in the Palace) has surpassed 90 percent in prime time TV programming in Iran. Korea is the only country in Asia where the Mellat Bank opened a branch.
Hardest hit are construction companies and shipbuilders as well as makers of cars and steel. Multi-pronged steps are necessary to help exporters to Iran minimize the fallout of the latest sanctions. Iran made it clear to Korea its intention to retaliate through banning imports of Korean products and punitive tariffs. An Iranian decision to suspend oil shipment to Korea would be quite frustrating. The nation imports 9.2 percent of its global oil imports from the Middle East country.
The government needs to leave no-stone unturned in its diplomatic efforts to explain the inevitability of its decision to Iran. Iran will be wise enough not to adopt all-or-nothing retaliatory steps against Seoul. Iran will be rational enough to expand legal trade with South Korea.
Seoul should promise its plan to withdraw the sanctions upon Iran’s scrapping of the WMD programs. The sanctions should not project the impression that Korea is hard on Islamic countries. This is the last thing Koreans imagine. As is well known, Korea is a model country for inter-faith harmony.