SEOUL, June 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea launched an inter-agency team Friday to help expand its humanitarian trade with Iran that had been restricted by U.S. sanctions against Tehran, the foreign ministry said.
Lee Seong-ho, deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, presided over the inaugural session of the team consisting of officials from the ministries of finance, industry, agriculture and maritime affairs, and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.
The launch came after South Korea sent to Iran US$500,000 worth of medicine used to treat a hereditary disease late last month in the first such humanitarian exports to the Middle Eastern country since the United States tightened anti-Iran sanctions last year.
Washington gave the green light to such exports in April based on its General License No. 8 -- a mechanism to authorize certain humanitarian transactions with Iran even if they involve Iran's central bank, which is subject to U.S. sanctions.
South Korea also seeks to export to Iran coronavirus diagnostic kits and other supplies -- worth $2 million in total -- later this month.
"Humanitarian trade with Iran gives an opportunity for our export enterprises at a time when international trade has contracted due to the coronavirus pandemic and can contribute to addressing the health care crisis in Iran, with which our country has long maintained friendly ties," Lee said.
"Thus, there is a need to actively expand humanitarian trade with Iran," he added.
At the session, participants discussed ways to expand trade to cover agricultural and food products, address difficulties facing Korean businesses and link South Korean firms with their partners in Iran.
Calls for the resumption of humanitarian trade with Iran have been rising as Tehran has had difficulty securing medical items and other supplies critical to fighting the COVID-19 scourge due to U.S. sanctions.
The license export program would help meet Iran's humanitarian needs, but subjects companies and related financial institutions to "enhanced due diligence" to ensure the exports will go to Iranians in need and are not diverted for other purposes.
Amid tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Seoul has faced a tough balancing act in trying to maintain both the long-standing security alliance with Washington and its economic partnership with Tehran.
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