In an interview with an Iranian website published Monday, South Korean ambassador Yun Kang-hyeo said US sanctions on Iran have harmed his country’s economy.
Yun told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) his country had suffered more than any − other than Iran itself − from ‘maximum pressure,’ under which the US threatens punitive action against anyone buying Iran’s oil or dealing with its financial sector.
ILNA said the interview took place a month ago but gave no reason for the delay in publishing the story.
Yun criticized the US 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and its imposition of unilateral sanctions, but argued Seoul had no choice but to comply. South Korean banks hold around $7 billion owed to Iran that they are not transferring for fear of US punishment.Most is for oil imports, as South Korea was among the main buyers of Iran's crude oil before 2018.
South Korea was among the top buyers of Iran's crude oil before President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
South Korea's petrochemical industries and refineries have faced difficulties due to the break in oil imports, Yun told ILNA, as they had been geared to process the type of crude bought from Iran and had struggled to find alternatives. Yun said Korea was importing oil from Qatar, ironically from a field jointly owned by Qatar and Iran, at a higher price.
Freezing the assets has soured Tehran's relations with Seoul. Iran detained a South Korean tanker and its crew in the Persian Gulf in January 2020, on grounds of environmental violations as the cause. The vessel was freed in April without the release of Iran’s assets.
After a letter from Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei September 6, President Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) barred imports from South Korea’s LG and Samsung, referred to by Khamenei as "two South Korean companies." While the leader referred to boosting local manufacturers, state media also saw the move as a diplomatic message.
LG and Samsung had reportedly stopped trade with Iran in 2018 despite Iran’s warning that it would be difficult for them to return once US sanctions ended. The Korean firms had previously strong sales in Iran, including partnerships with Iranian companies that assembled goods like air conditioners and televisions.
Yun told ILNA that an Iranian home-appliances manufacturer, Snowa, wanted a ban on South Korean imports but that he had urged company officials to extend cooperation with companies such as LG and Samsung. "The director of Snowa welcomed my suggestion and we proposed to find a good way to cooperate," Yun noted.
In early November some Iranian media, including Javan newspaper, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, criticized the Korean ambassador overhis visit to a private hospital to donate 2,000 Covid masks. The newspaper wrote that Seoul should instead free Iran’s billions and called Yun’s action “cheap and shameless.”