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The Souring of Iran-South Korea Relations

Seoul’s unapologetic stance could single a change in its approach to resource and trade diplomacy in the Middle East.

Ever since the reimposition of sanctions by the Trump administration, Iran-South Korea relations have been on a downward trajectory. Tehran has been complaining about the freezing of an estimated $7 billion in Iranian funds held in two South Korean banks since September 2019, when a U.S. waiver for imports of Iranian oil expired. 

To begin with, Korean businesses’ short-lived encounters with their Iranian counterparts in the aftermath of the Iranian nuclear deal have left a lasting negative impression on the suitability and possibility of doing business in and with Iran. Doing so, furthermore, has the added advantage of enabling South Korea to take concrete steps towards the realization of its recently articulated strategic objective of becoming an arms exporter to the region.
According to its Defense Reform 2020 Plan, Seoul has the ambition of becoming a major arm exporter, and thus the defense sector has become the newest frontier in South Korea’s export-led economic development strategy.

This article was written by Nima Khorrami

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