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(LEAD) Park: S. Korea, Iran can work together toward N. Korea's denuclearization

All Headlines 11:14 May 04, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with Park's comments; CHANGES headline; ADDS photo)
By Kim Kwang-tae

SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye said South Korea could work with Iran to try pushing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Iran maintains traditional friendly ties with North Korea and the two countries have long been suspected of cooperating in missile and nuclear programs.

Still, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani voiced his country’s opposition to nuclear development on the Korean Peninsula in a news conference on Monday after his summit with Park in Tehran, in an apparent reference to North Korea's ongoing nuke program.

“I think it is very rare and meaningful for Iran to clearly and publicly express its stance on the issue,” Park said in a meeting with members of the press on the flight back to Seoul from the landmark trip to Tehran.

Park became the first South Korean president to have a summit with an Iranian leader since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1962.

The president also said her trip created wiggle room for South Korea and Iran to cooperate for denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

The comments came amid speculation that North Korea could carry out a fifth nuclear test to mark a rare congress of the ruling Workers' Party scheduled for Friday.

Park has repeatedly warned that North Korea's provocations could hasten its collapse.

South Korea hopes that North Korea will follow in the footsteps of Iran in curbing its nuclear activities.

The North, however, said it is different from Iran, adding that trying to solve disputes caused by its nuclear program with an Iranian-type solution won't work.

The chief executive also expressed hope that her trip could create a new momentum for a “second Middle East boom,”referring to potential business opportunities in Iran.

In the 1970s, many Koreans sent home hard-earned cash by working at construction sites in the Middle East region, which officials called the first Middle East boom. It helped South Korea transform itself into an economic powerhouse from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War.

On Monday, Park and Rouhani observed the signing of nearly 20 out of 66 memorandums of understanding worth up to $45.6 billion after their summit.

Seoul hopes the MOUs pave the way for South Korean companies to eventually win massive infrastructure projects under way in Iran.

Iran has emerged as a promising destination for foreign investment after the U.N. lifted sanctions in a follow-up to a landmark deal reached with the United States and five world powers over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

Park said South Korea and Iran have agreed to expand cooperation in health care, medicine and energy, as well as infrastructure. Iran has announced about US$27 billion worth of projects to build and modernize its infrastructure, including railways and airports.

The president vowed to make an effort to use the next "Middle East boom" to energize South Korea's exports and create momentum for its next economic takeoff.


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