S.Korean Sanctions Against Iran Draw Mixed Response

      September 10, 2010 11:45

      U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in a joint statement on Wednesday welcomed South Korean sanctions against Iran announced a day earlier. "We recognize and appreciate that, given Iran's significant trade with [South Korea] this decision to robustly implement UN Security Council Resolution 1929 is not without cost," they said. "With this action, [South Korea] joins an emerging consensus of states that have taken steps to demonstrate to Iran the consequences of its failure to meet its international obligations."

      They said the sanctions "strengthen the growing international resolve to prevent proliferation and Iran's development of nuclear weapons and to press Iran to return to serious negotiations on its nuclear program and meet its international obligations."

      Senator Joseph Lieberman, a hawkish Democrat who ran for vice president in 2000, warned, "In particular, Korea's global leadership on Iran sanctions... injects fresh urgency to concerns about the conduct of the People's Republic of China. Chinese companies have unfortunately in the past been allowed by their government to pursue their commercial self-interest in Iran, exploiting the restraint of other countries."

      Yet from the perspective of the U.S. administration, South Korea's sanctions are probably less than satisfactory. Washington wanted Seoul to shut down the Seoul branch of Bank Mellat, the only office of the Iranian lender outside the Middle East. Instead, Seoul slapped Bank Mellat with a two-month suspension. Two months from now, the bank will be allowed to operate here again but transactions will require approval. This has prompted concerns that sanctions could lose their punch.

      Officials in Washington also seem to be disappointed that Seoul put 102 Iranian organizations and 24 individuals on a list that requires transactions with them to get official approval rather than banning them. There are also complaints within the Obama administration over South Korea's initial reticence in joining the U.S. in imposing sanctions against Iran, even though Washington stood by the South following the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and other issues involving North Korea.

      Nevertheless the U.S. Senate also issued a statement thanking South Korea. Lieberman said, "I know that this was not an easy or cost-free decision for the [South Korean] government, either politically or economically. But it is precisely Seoul’s willingness to shoulder rather than shirk its international responsibilities that confirms [its] emergence as a global leader." Lieberman added, "For our part, I hope that the leadership shown today by our Korean allies will be remembered here in Congress in the months ahead."

      But China was unhappy. When asked about how Beijing feels about South Korea's sanctions against Iran, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters, "We do not agree with unilateral sanctions imposed against Iran. The Chinese government hopes that the countries involved will maintain their broad stance of seeking a diplomatic solution." She added, "We must look for an effective solution through continued dialogue and negotiations."

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