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‘Remorseful’ South Korea returns to Iran

24 August 2015 13:04



A delegation of 30 representatives of oil, gas and construction industries from South Korea is visiting Iran in hunt for new business opportunities following the conclusion of nuclear talks. 

South Korea was among Iran’s major trade partners, falling in line with the West to impose sanctions on Tehran but the recent opening has prompted Seoul to rush a high-caliber team headed by two ministers with pronouncements of regret.

“I am very sorry but the issues will be redressed. We should pass this phase as soon as possible and reach the point of developing bilateral ties,” South Korean Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Yoo Il-ho said in Tehran when asked by a reporter why his country left Iran under the sanctions.

Yoo and Deputy Trade Minister Woo Tae-hee are leading officials of public and private companies in their visit to the Islamic Republic on Sunday and Monday.

Iran was once the sixth largest market in terms of orders won by South Korean builders, according to a statement by the ministry of trade, industry and energy in Seoul.

Executives of Hyundai and Daewoo engineering and construction companies and other private builders such Daelim Industrial Co and the state-run Korea Export-Import Bank and Korea Expressway Corp are tagging along with the ministers.

They met Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh who said South Korea had agreed to raise oil imports after the lifting of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

South Korean and Iranian officials hold talks at Ministry of Petroleum in Tehran.

“Before the sanctions, South Korea purchased 180,000 barrels per day of oil from Iran. This figure is currently a little more than 100,000 barrels,” Zangeneh said.

For energy cooperation, the two countries can cooperate on crude oil recovery and investment in LNG and petrochemical projects, he said.

In 2010, the National Iranian Oil Company cancelled a $1.2 billion contract with GS Engineering and Construction for failing to fulfill its obligations in a project to remove hydrogen sulfide from gas produced at the giant South Pars field.

Zangeneh said Iran after sanctions is quite different in terms of infrastructure, capabilities and manpower from what it used to be.

“In our meeting, this issue was raised and we asked South Korea’s state-run insurance companies to provide coverage for financing of Iranian projects,” he added.

Last month, Korea Eximbank said it was ready to provide project financing, loans and credit to Korean firms trying to secure business in Iran. It was also seeking to secure a memorandum of understanding with Tehran on building 10 hospitals in the country.

South Korean Steel firm POSCO has also approached Iranian firms on potential business tie-ups.

Iran is currently South Korea’s third biggest export market in the Middle East. Companies such as Samsung and LG Electronics have continued business in Iran despite the sanctions.

Bilateral trade stood just over $8.5 billion in 2014, with the balance evenly divided between the two countries. Transactions rose by 35% in the first five months of 2015 and are expected to reach $10 billion by the end of the year.

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