S. Korea rethinks potential sanctions against Iran

21:42, August 11, 2010      

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South Korea seems to have put a brake on its drive to seek independent sanctions against Iran for its disputed nuclear program Washington considers as a cover for developing nuclear weapons.

As an ally to the United States, the country has been under pressure to follow the U.S. lead to pressure Iran into dropping its alleged nuclear ambition. Washington's arms control envoy recently visited Seoul to urge some actions against Tehran.

But in the face of increasingly vociferous protest by Iranian officials, including Tehran's Ambassador to Seoul, the government seems to be reconsidering the whole issue.

"We will not hastily deal with the issue of sanctions against Iran. We will review the issue through substantial discussions with countries concerned," Seoul's semi-official Yonhap News Agency quoted Wednesday an unnamed high-ranking government official as saying.

The remark hints at a possible shift in the government stance, as officials only a week ago were actively considering independent sanctions on Iran, Yonhap said. Now Seoul is likely to wait and see until Washington finalizes its own set of sanctions against the Middle Eastern nation, it said.

Meanwhile, the Seoul branch of Bank Mellat, an Iranian bank accused by Washington of being a channel of financial transactions related to the Iranian nuclear program, is awaiting the probe results by South Korea's financial watchdog.

In what local media speculated to be a possible step toward sanctions, the bank recently came under scrutiny by the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS). Local media reported the branch can be shut down due to substantiated evidence of its illegal activities provided by the United States and Britain, despite the FSS's claim that the audit was part of a routine check-up for foreign banks here.

Experts in Seoul called on the government to exert caution on the issue.

"The branch can be shut down if there's irreversible evidence, but three to six months of temporary closure of its operations might be more appropriate," said Yoon Chang-hyun, a business professor at the University of Seoul.

"We can then think about whether to prolong the cooling-off period or end it, through negotiations or other sorts of arrangements. At this point, it seems appropriate to carry out a contingency plan and consider a temporary closure as a possibility, " he added.

Mohammad-Reza Bakhtiari, the top Iranian envoy in Seoul who strongly warned of potential ramifications of Seoul's sanctions in previous interviews with local media, suggested that Tehran's anger at Seoul might have been eased.

"(I) think normal relations that have existed between South Korea and Iran can continue," Bakhtiari said in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with Xinhua.

South Korean officials have expressed their will not to pursue unilateral sanctions against Iran, a decision Iran "warmly welcomes and respect," he said.

Speculation has been running high that Iran might cut its oil supplies to South Korea, a country entirely dependent on oil imports.

But the ambassador played down the worries. Iran, the fourth- largest source of crude oil for South Korea, will not take such a drastic action against its longtime customer, he said.

"We have tried to become a very reliable source of oil and energy for South Korea, and we both enjoy benefits of such healthy cooperation," Bakhtiari said. That reliability is something that cannot be achieved overnight, and therefore will not be easily abandoned, he said.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:王寒露)

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