Referring to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, the Ambassador of South Korea to Iran counts North Korean officials as main violators of international law. He also criticizes the comparison between Iran and North Korea stressing Iran has been committed to its promises in the JCPOA. Mr. Kim additionally emphasizes the development of cultural and economic ties of South Korea to Iran expressing hope we are going to see the opening of South Korea’s cultural center in Tehran and strengthening of relations between the two countries more than before.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with Kim Seung Ho,
Ambassador of South Korea to Iran
Interview by Mohammadreza Nazari
The Cultural Night of the Republic of Korea was held here in Tehran with the participation of the country’s Ambassador. What were your incentive and objective in holding such an event?
Just as Nowruz is a grand event for Iranians, we, the Koreans, have a grand festival in autumn. People have been gathering together in years when the season came and due to the close relations between the two countries, we held this festival in Tehran, too.
In doing so, we brought a theater group from Korea to Iran, and the potentials for Iranian and Korean artists to form joint cooperation are another reason why we held this festival.
As everything achieves maturity and becomes ripe in autumn, the relations between Iran and Korea have come to fruition, too, and that is why we organized the event.
It must be mentioned that this year is the 55th anniversary of the initiation of diplomatic ties between Iran and Korea and since the imposition of sanctions, South Korea has been the second and largest buyer of Iran’s oil. The relations are developing between the two countries and our two-way trade this year is expected to exceed $10bn.
Can such events be accounted for as providing proper conditions to extend cultural ties between the two countries?
Indeed. Iran’s Embassy in South Korea is looking forward to holding a number of festivals/events, including the one in November that hosts Iranian artists who travel to South Korea to hold a joint painting exhibition with their Korean counterparts. After that, Korean artists will come to Iran and do the same here.
Continuing this trend, Iran’s Deputy to President and Head of the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization sent the country’s finest handicraft artists to Seoul to have an exhibition there. On October 23 in Tehran, we shall have a handicrafts exhibition at the Niavaran Complex with Korean and Iranian concerts planned alongside it.
Are there new activities going on in the economic section just as there are some in the area of culture?
Various economic activities are now in preparations.
Take some examples. We also have a joint project with the Iranian Mines & Mining Industries Development & Renovation, aka IMIDRO, and the Embassy will hold international conference in November. Iran’s Chamber and cooperatives will organize a conference to explain its activities with the Korean Embassy as its main sponsor in November; sometimes for water management, health care and medical cooperation, science and technology are in the pipeline.
Are there ongoing talks regarding other economic projects between the two countries?
South Korea’s Export-Import Bank, aka Kexim, has just signed an 8-billion-dollar credit line with Iran’s Central Bank and en route to this horizon, Korean companies tend to put some projects to effect in Iran.
There used to be problems in opening credits between Iranian and Korean banks. Are they gone now?
There is no problem in this area. Many Korean banks now can transfer Euro to Iranian banks and recently, private banks association of the two countries signed a cooperation MOU.
Will we see the return of Korean banks to Iran?
Industrial banks and Woori Bank are doing their marketing research in this regard.
You were trying to establish the cultural center of the Korean Embassy in Iran. How is that project working out?
We had placed our request. It is being studied so they would tell us the results.
Have Iranian officials set any preconditions for opening this center?
None. The procedure just takes long and we are waiting for it. I believe that the opening of the Korean Cultural Center in Tehran will be instrumental in boosting our cultural exchange. Consequently, our relations will be more solid.
What consultations and collaborations have been carried out to exchange students and scholars?
There are a considerable number of people coming to the Korean Embassy in Tehran who are interested in studying there. In this regard, the Embassy organizes exams to test their Korea language skill. Just until last year, 100-150 applicants would participate, but the number has gone up to 700 this year.
Last May, the Embassy held an exhibition of Korean universities at the Ambassador’s Residence for Iranian students. More than a thousand students visited. This is a good example of great potentials in the area of higher education between the two countries.
Can we hope to have Korean added as a major to the Faculty of Foreign Languages of Tehran University?
Yes. Currently, Tehran University has a Korean language class with a detailed plan to enlarge it into a permanent department of Korean language. It is supposed to open this autumn, but because of administrative preparations, it seems to take more time.
Recently, we have been witness to tensions on the Korean Peninsula and North Korea’s missile tests. How imminent is the outbreak of a war between North Korea and other countries in the region?
This tension must stop, because North Korea continues to violate the international law and UN resolutions. Regional and global situations are badly affected by its reckless and irrational behavior.
Hasn’t the imposition of sanctions on North Korea deteriorated the current situation? North Korean officials believe their country acts in response to the US sanctions.
The international community has placed those sanctions in response to the NK’s repeated violation and threats. North Korea is at fault in all this.
International sanctions have been ratified by the UN, which Iran is also a member of. Hadn’t North Korea done anything, there would have never been any sanctions. North Korea made a mistake in the first place and afterwards, the international community exercised sanctions against it.
Can Trump’s hostile rhetoric against North Korea be a strong factor to intensify the crisis in the region?
His approach was adopted in response to North Korea. In fact, North Korea broke its promises first.
North Korea has had both missile and nuclear tests and just in this one last year at least, it has carried out more than 22 missile tests.
Iran has not done anything in contrast to the JCPOA, but Trump uses a hostile rhetoric against it, too.
You should ask Trump about that.
Why do you vouch for Trump’s words in the case of North Korea but refrain from commenting on his rhetoric against Iran?
I just said that Trump’s message to North Korea arose from how this country behaved. I never compare North Korea to Iran and as a matter of fact, there has never been a comparison between these two at all. Iran has been effectively committed to the JCPOA, whereas North Korea has conducted 6 nuclear tests and core missile tests. So Iran and North Korea are two completely different stories.
Considering that Trump candidly says the JCPOA has to be reviewed and reconsidered, what is the transparent standpoint of the South Korean Government toward the JCPOA?
I must say that the IAEA believes Iran is fully committed to the agreement and other countries who signed the JCPOA are of the same view that the JCPOA shall be maintaine.
Do you think the JCPOA is be in danger?
No, it is not.