High-ranking U.S. State Department officials have visited Korea recently to ask Seoul to step up sanctions against Iran, which is believed to be developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. apparently wants Seoul to halt imports of Iranian petrochemical products and crude oil.
Following a visit last month by State Department Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, the Obama administration now plans to dispatch Robert Einhorn, a State Department advisor for non-proliferation and arms control, to seek strengthened sanctions against Iran by the Korean government, a diplomatic source said Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly urged President Lee Myung-bak and Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on the sidelines of the High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan on Tuesday to join U.S. sanctions.
The source said, "The U.S. wants Korea to halt purchases of Iranian crude oil just as France has done." The U.S. wants to block Iran's crude oil exports, which are its main source of income.
According to government statistics, Korea's trade with Iran amount to US$10 billion a year, with crude oil accounting for $5-6 billion. Crude oil imports from Iran account for 9.6 percent of Korea's total oil imports.
Seoul is therefore less than enthusiastic. A government official said, "I believe it will not be too late to reach a decision on the matter after monitoring the situation further." Another reason for caution is that Iranian protesters stormed the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday shortly after the U.K. said it would apply sanctions against the Middle Eastern country in order to halt its nuclear weapons program.
But another government source said, "We can't ignore a request from our closest ally. Given closer relations between Tehran and Pyongyang in exchanging nuclear weapons technology, we are looking to take appropriate steps."