Seoul-Tehran ties based on restoration, diversification, interconnection

News ID: 4000503 -
TEHRAN, Jun. 11 (MNA) – South Korean envoy to Iran underlined that his country follows a set of strategies to restore ties with Tehran to pre-sanction era, to diversify and to interconnect it, particualry in economic and trade fields.

Mr. Kim, Seung-Ho the Ambassador of South Korea to Iran hosted Maryam Khormaei of Mehr News Agency in his residency to discuss bilateral relations as well as international issues including two-way trade highly dependent on oil and Korean peninsula's critical situation.

Following is the full text of the interview:

In his last year's visit to Iran, the Prime Minister of South Korea agreed to increase the annual trading volume between the two countries to $18 billion. Now the question is how successful we were to hit the target and except for the oil, what sort of new commodities have you imported from Iran?

If I want to start with the amount referred to the money first, I should say that our last year trading increased by 30%. But from January to March 2017, it increased by 60%. So I can say that our two-way trade has increased very rapidly and this is quite good news for both countries. The reason as to why this is good news is not only you sell more oil to us but Seoul sells more products to you.

I should say that South Korea has 3 basic strategies towards Iran. The first one is “restoration”. Before the sanctions in 2011, our countries two-way trade was more than $17 billion. But during the sanction period, it was reduced to one-third. So we have to restore the peak of trade to the former state.

The second strategy is that we have to “diversify our relations” not only in trade but also in cultural, social and political subjects. Even in trade, we need not to focus on oil, cars and cellular phones.

The third strategy is to “interconnect the relations between two countries”. Trade in the concept of selling and buying is not sustainable enough. We can easily change our trade pattern.

In regard with the first strategy, I should say that restoration is already well underway. It is proved by the rapid increase of trade in last two years. But when it comes to talking about the “competition”, we still have a far way to go.

The product portfolio from South Korea to Iran remains thin. Except from oil, there is not much to import from Iran. But after lifting the sanctions, our oil import from your country has increased by 200%.

At the same time, our concentration on the oil has increased. Now, 98% of our imports from your country is oil. So, we have to diversify our relations.

Do you have any plan for this so-called diversification?

We need a bilateral effort contribution. South Korea can’t do it on its own. We need more Iranian side effort to penetrate into our market. Relying on oil and petrochemicals is not enough.

In the shipbuilding industry, Iran before going under sanctions signed a deal worth of $2.7 billion with Hyundai Heavy Industries. But once the sanctions were implied, Hyundai filed up an international claim for damage. How far did the claim go forward and what is the fate of the deal?

I don’t have specific information on this big deal. But at that time Iran was under international sanctions and South Korea is also a member of the UN. So, we had the obligation to respect the sanctions. In this regard, Hyundai Company could’ve breached the sanctions. That’s why the company stopped the deal.

The previous government of South Korea had a conservative approach towards the Northern neighbor but since Mr. Moon the new elected president took office, we have been hearing about the possibility of changing the course to a political solution which includes bilateral meeting with Mr. Kim if necessary.  How bright is the future of the peninsula relying on dialogue rather than war?

Well, to be frank it is not in our hands even though we changed our government and the new one is more willing to engage with North Korea in a more peaceful manner, the situation can’t only be controlled by Soul. Actually, all depends on how Pyongyang will react. So, even if South Korea keeps its innocent behavior towards Northern neighbor, as long as the country keeps provoking us and breaching international rules, we have not many options to take. Only two weeks have passed since the new president took office.

How optimistic are you about a political solution?

It all depends on North Korea. This is the only hope. At first Pyongyang needs to take a more peaceful attitude towards us; however, it has already shot two ballistic missiles in the last two weeks. We really need to have North Korea around the negotiation table but if the country keeps provoking and breaching the international rules, it will be difficult to show an innocent attitude. All depends on North Korea. So I sincerely hope that the country will change its behavior.

Mr. Moon has been talking about thinking twice on THAAD. He has not discharged the possibility of dooming the U.S. defense system. What are the reasons behind this hesitation after such a long desire to have it?

I don’t have specific information about this but what I know is that this system is necessary for South Korea to protect itself from the North Korean nuclear attack. At the same time, China is not that happy about THAAD. So, this question will be discussed between South Korea, China and the U.S. in order to seek the solution through peace and intensive dialogue.

Except for montage automotive industry, do South Korea's car manufacturing companies have any plan for more cooperation with Iran in technology transfer? What's your plan for Iran's auto market?

As far as I know, cooperation in automobile section has being expected very much. This year Kerman Motor already started to assemble and sell 2 passenger car models of Korean vehicles. Kerman Motor has the intention to increase two more new types within this year. I heard that the first of two models are very well received in the Iranian market and the company is now discussing if they can export the Korean cars to neighboring countries as the number of car sales exceed the number of what you need in the Iranian domestic market. 

Within this course which includes importing components of Korean cars and assembling the final product here in Iran, I definitely think that there can be more technology transferring. But, if you ask whether the Korean companies have specific plans to set up their own factories here, I have no information as it is in the private companies’ decision. Korean government can’t impose on private companies to do this. But all depends on the promotion of the Korean cars in the Iranian market. If they are well received by Iranian costumers, then surely the private companies will put forward another strategy.

Last week, the TPP 11 (countries) made a decision to move forward without Trump's America. In regard with the possible rivalry between TPP and China’s new Silk Road, what might be the final alternative of South Korea when it comes to joining either of them? In another word, how high is the possibility of joining TPP?

First of all, TPP was closely negotiated between original members including the U.S. Before Donald Trump came to power in the U.S., there were two different opinions about TPP. One idea was that we had to join the treaty as an original member. But, the opponents would say “No” as negotiation is lasting too long, it is better to wait until it is finished among original members. Now with Trump's withdrawal from the treaty, we don’t know if TPP will go forward as scheduled or it will collapse. This is a decision to be made by the original members.

As regard with “One Belt One Road” project, once it was launched by China, the countries which might be included were not specified. Anyway, South Korea doesn’t have any intention to join Silk Road but as China is one of our major cooperative partners, we hope it will be successful.

One more thing I want to add is that from time to time, I hear almost without any exception from the Iranian friends “what do you think of Iran?”. My reaction is “please don’t ask”. Iran is great enough, big enough, powerful enough. So don’t be concerned of anybody’s opinion. The U.S. does what it wants. Chinese do what they want and it is the same with France or any other country. They don’t act in accordance with other people's opinion.

To me Iran is a very big and strong country. If I were an Iranian, I would never ask such a question. 

Interview by Maryam Khormaei

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