July 06, 2010
South Korea-Iran Foreign Relations
In June 2007, South Korea’s then-foreign minister, Song Min-Sun, supported a diplomatic solution to the international disagreement over Iran’s nuclear program. In November 2008, South Korea’s next foreign minister, Yu Myung-Hwan, said that Iran needs to reassure the international community of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, a South Korean, "the Iranian foreign minister stressed that his country is pushing for a nuclear program for peaceful purposes.”
Iran and South Korea enjoy strong economic ties with bilateral trade totaling roughly $10 billion in 2008. Despite disagreements over Iran’s nuclear enrichment activity, Vice President of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency Hong Ki-Wha and the head of Iran’s Investment and Technical and Economic Assistances Organization, Mohammad Khaza’i, signed a memorandum of understanding in April 2007, in which they agreed to form a committee with the aim of boosting trade between their two countries. Kim Sung Gun, South Korea’s parliamentary delegation head to Iran in March 2007 noted that Korean companies are eager to invest in Iran and added that he hopes the two countries can encourage bilateral investment.
According to a Middle East Economic Survey, Iran exported 157,000 barrels of crude oil per day to South Korea in July 2009. Though South Korea has decreased total crude oil imports from the Middle East by 14.7% compared to the previous year, Iran remains South Korea’s fourth largest source of crude oil.
In May 2009, South Korean ministers participated in a major conference on foreign investment in Iran. South Korea also attended the Iranian gas forum on September 26-27, 2009 alongside Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, the Netherlands, and Malaysia.
According to a report by the United States government, as of April 2010 there were three South Korean firms active in Iran’s hydrocarbon sector between 2005 and 2009 that received US government contracts totaling roughly $880 million. These were the Daelim Industrial Company, Hyundai Heavy Industries, and GS Engineering and Construction.  On July 3, 2010, Iran the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) cancelled a $1.2 billion contract with GS Engineering and Construction, accusing the firm of failing to fulfill its obligations. The South Korean company had been tasked with removing hydrogen sulfide from gas pumped from Iran’s South Pars field after signing an agreement in October 2009.
South Korea and Iran have continuously disagreed on the latter’s nuclear enrichment activities. In January 2007, Ban Ki-Moon, South Korea’s former foreign minister, assumed the position of UN Secretary General. Since assuming office, Moon has supported a number of sanctions against the Islamic Republic for failing to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency, further straining relations between the two countries. Impediments notwithstanding, South Korea and Iran have had a number of official meetings to discuss bilateral trade and political cooperation and have signed several memorandums of understanding, including on media cooperation, trade-investment, and technical cooperation between the two.
During a March 2009 meeting between National Assembly Speaker of South Korea Kim Hyong-o and Iranian Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, Hyong-o expressed his hope that Iran and South Korea expand parliamentary cooperation. That same month, the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister in Asia and Pacific Affairs suggested that Iran and South Korea should cooperate to help establish security in Afghanistan.
In November 2009, Iran announced that it was prepared to aid in resolving the Korean peninsula crisis. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Iran welcomes mutual understanding and agreement between South and North Korea to promote peace and stability in the region. During a meeting with South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Yong-Jon at the end of October 2009, Mottaki said that “mutual cooperation has not been balanced in all fields and we hope to be able to make it more balanced.” The South Korean senior diplomat responded that “we want promotion of ties in all economic fields and implementing joint projects and deepening bilateral cooperation in direction of mutual interests.”
On January 6, 2010, the head of the Iran-South Korea parliamentary friendship group, Hossein Hashemi, and Speaker Kim Hyong-o met in Seoul in order to discuss ways to foster bilateral cooperation, particularly, in the economic and energy sectors. During the meeting, Hyong-o referred to the ample potentials existing on both sides for increasing mutual cooperation and expressed satisfaction over the growth of bilateral ties between the two countries. On Iran's nuclear issue, he stressed Iran's right to use peaceful nuclear energy, and added "all countries are entitled to use peaceful nuclear energy and we believe Iran's nuclear program is for civilian purposes."
In April 2010, in an effort to improve the two countries’ “mutual understanding and acquaintance,” South Korea and Iran agreed to exchange news and media teams and enhance current levels of educational and technical collaboration. The decision to expand cooperation in the field of media was taken following a meeting between Islamic Republic News Agency Directory Ali-Akbar Javanfekr and Lee Seung Jung, the head of the South Korea Press Association.
Although “high politics” ties between the two countries are not especially developed, Seoul and Tehran have taken steps to engage each other in cultural spheres. In May 2009, the South Korean Vice-Cultural Minister Jae-min Shin and the South Korean Ambassador to Tehran Kim Young-mok attended a ceremony entitled “Korea, Sparkling Night in Iran” where both officials expressed the hope that such events would bring about improved political, economic and cultural relations between South Korea and Iran. In October 2009, South Korea’s Pusan International Film festival will host two Iranian filmmakers, Payman Hagani and Mahmoud Kalari. The Iranian filmmakers will present their films as well as participate in an educational workshop for aspiring Asian directors. Furthermore, the Iran National Library and Archives (INLA) has agreed to work to increase bilateral cooperation with the National Library of [South] Korea. In March 2010, INLA Director Ali-Akbar Ashari met with his South Korean counterpart, Chul-min Mo, to signed an agreement pledging to exchange experience in staff training and library science, and to hold book fairs.