In the wake of lifting the international sanctions on Iran, 236 South Korean companies and organizations accompanied President Park Geun-hye’s state visit to Iran starting from May 1. The size of economic mission is larger than any other in the history of the nation. Back last year, Park visited the United States with 166 entrepreneurs and China 156, and this year, Mexico with 145.
The mission size shows symbolically how South Korea see and value the Middle Eastern country. During Park’s stay in Iran, 66 memorandums of understanding for cooperation in a variety of fields were signed.
Business Korea had an exclusive interview with Mr. Hassan Taherian, Iranian Ambassador to South Korea, to hear more about the overall relationship between the two countries. Followings are some excerpts from the interview.
The diplomatic relationship between Iran and South Korea has been in place for 54 years since its establishment on October 23, 1962. Could you summarize the overall relationship up to now?
Over 54 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, bilateral relationship between the two countries has been friendly based on mutual trust and respect. Iranian officials have always held a positive view about South Korea. There is no impediment to the expansion of cooperation between the two countries. Over past few years we've had high ranking reciprocal visits at the political level. Parliamentary officials of the two countries have made several trips to each other countries. Economic cooperation has always been one of the main features of bilateral relations, and Korean companies have been involved in a wide range of construction and development projects in Iran, and Korean goods and products are popular in Iran, having their own many fans in the country. Meanwhile, Iran is one of the oil suppliers to Korea, and would like to keep playing its role as a long-lasting reliable energy supplier to Korea. On balance, the bilateral relations remain good, friendly, and progressing.
In the wake of President Park Geun-hye’s recent visit to Iran, many expect the economic and cultural exchange between two countries to be revitalized. In what ways do you hope the bilateral relationship would develop further in the future?
Given that President Park's May visit to Iran was the first of its kind ever made at this level between the two countries, it is considered an important historic visit which opened up a new chapter in Iran-Korea relationship. It also gives momentum to the bilateral relationship, which promotes mutual cooperation in a wide range of fields, namely; political, economic, cultural, scientific, academic, and people-to-people exchanges.
In the wake of the lifting of the sanction, Iranian high potential expansive market, yet challenging and competitive, is open to foreign companies and investors. Therefore, with a long-term plan to look into the future and through direct investment, establishment of production lines, operation of joint ventures and transfer of advanced technologies to Iran, Korean reputable companies, which have been active in Iranian market in the past, can take considerable advantage of Iran's sizable market of 80 million and neighboring countries' bigger market of 300 million. I hold that, through a win-win partnership involving mutual interests, Korean companies will be able to operate in Iran market more extensively, assuredly, and successfully.
In cultural area, Iran and South Korea, the two Asian nations, enjoy a shared cultural values such as respecting the elderly and making much of family. I think it is an important asset and foundation on which the two countries can build a good relationship. The shared value is well shown in the fact that Korean drama series like “a jewel in the palace” and “Jumung” have had many enthusiasts in Iran. These commonalities lay the groundwork for promoting cultural cooperation and people-to-people exchanges as well as for economic cooperation between the two countries. I am confident that we will be witnessing an increase in connections in a variety of fields such as academy, sport, art and tourism. Launching the direct Seoul-Tehran flight would inevitably contribute to the reinforcement of these connections.
Would you tell us about the current economy of Iran and its outlook? How could Korean economy and industry be complementary to those of Iran and visa versa?
Although oil price has plummeted over last year, it appears to have gradually returned to a recovery trend since a few months back. However, coming up with different economic plans over past few years, Iran has tried to diversify its economy and decrease its dependence on oil income to get ready for the post-oil era. After the lifting of the sanctions, Iran is intent on completing unfinished constructions of infrastructure and industrial projects. Furthermore, new projects for its economic prosperity have been defined. To this end and in order for the nation to reinforce its economic infrastructure and increase export capacities, foreign investment and advanced technologies are required. On the other hand, having good experiences and expertise, Korean companies can actively participate in Iran's projects in gas & oil fields, roads, railroads, power plants, desalination of water systems, airports, building hospitals & medical centers and ICT projects, which all could give a considerable momentum to the current status of bilateral economic co-operation. Viewed from this perspective, it can be assumed that the two countries' economy and industry could be complementary to each other.
What is the current state of social and cultural exchanges between our two nations? Do you have any idea to promote such exchanges? How much known is Hallyu (Korean Wave) to your people?
During President Park's visit to Iran last May, the heads of the two countries placed a great emphasis on reinforcement of cultural cooperation. In this line, they designated the year 2017 as the year of Korea-Iran cultural exchange. Both countries expressed their willingness to establish cultural centers in their respective capitals; in Seoul, and Tehran. The increase of people–to–people relations and strengthening of co-operation in different territories i.e., cultural, educational, scientific, artistic, sport, tourism, and academic institutions could enhance bilateral public understanding and promote affinity between two nations. Fortunately, utilizing its people’s artistic talents and its rich cultural and historical traditions, South Korea has successfully created "Korean Wave." When it comes to my country, this phenomenon manifests itself through historical, movie drama series, the most famous of which are “a Jewel in the castle” and “Jumung.” These movies series have received a fervent welcome from the people of Iran, with a viewership rate of more than 80%. Due to shared cultural values of the two countries, my people interestingly pursue these programs, which in their turn, create a good atmosphere to enhance Iranian people’s understanding of Korea’s culture and tradition.
Could you recommend some favorite tourist attractions in Iran to S. Korean tourists? Are the travelers free from the concerns about some attacks from terrorist groups like ISIS?
Iran is one of the safest places for the tourists in Asia and in the Middle East. Tourists can be well assured that they can safely and easily travel all across the country without any problem. There are numerous tourism attractions and spots to visit in the country. Persepolis (Takht-e-Jamshid), the capital of the Achaemenid Empire and one of the world's most magnificent ancient sites left from more than 2500 years ago. This site was declared a world heritage in 1979 by UNESCO, Grand Bazar of Tehran, magnificent architectural works, and buildings in Isfahan, rainy lush forests of Gilan, and Mazandaran provinces, beautiful beaches of Caspian sea in the North, and Persian Gulf in the South, Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art, which has the finest collection of modern arts outside Europe and the US, boasting artworks by Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch, and René, beautiful cities of Shiraz, Tabriz, Mashhad, magnificent spectacular mountains of Damavand, and Sabalan and last but not least plateau of Azerbaijan, the land of Zoroaster to name just a few.
As Ambassador of Iran to South Korea, are there any particular requests or wishes you would like to share or accomplish during your stay here in Korea?
As the ambassador of Iran, I will try my best to promote people to people exchanges, and effectively contribute to the mutually successful and beneficial cooperation in all areas between the two countries. And I wish the people of Korea peace, prosperity, health, and happy life.