South Korea is exploring ways to provide humanitarian support to Iran to help its fight against the new coronavirus, the foreign ministry said Monday, as the Middle East country struggles with shortages of medical supplies under US sanctions.
Seoul's consideration appears to have accelerated after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly sent a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier this month to request 3.2 million COVID-19 diagnostic kits and other quarantine supplies.
"Through various channels, the Iranian side has informed our government of the serious health care crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 inside its country, and our government is carrying out multi-faceted considerations of ways for humanitarian support," the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry added that it is continuing consultations with the United States and other concerned countries over the resumption of South Korea's humanitarian exports to Iran through the won-based settlement of bilateral trade transactions.
Medicine and other humanitarian exports are not subject to sanctions. But companies have been reluctant to do business with Iran for fear that financial sanctions could make it difficult to receive payments for their exports.
To address such concerns, South Korea is seeking to establish a new mechanism for transactions with Iran, which is similar to the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement designed to facilitate the flow of humanitarian goods to the Iranians while safeguarding against any diversion of the items for what the US calls malign purposes.
"The US basically recognizes the need for humanitarian support for Iran in the wake of the coronavirus outbreaks," a senior foreign ministry official told reporters.
"As our government thinks that from the humanitarian standpoint, it is good if the medical shipments materialize promptly, we have been consulting with both the US and Iran," he added.
The ministry refused to confirm the report on Rouhani's letter to Moon, citing diplomatic customs.
Decrying US sanctions as major impediments to its efforts to secure a stable supply of medicine and other items, Iran has been appealing for international assistance, particularly through the World Health Organization and the UN International Children's Emergency Fund.
According to the Iranian health authorities, as of noon Sunday, the country's COVID-19 caseload reached 21,638 with 1,685 fatalities. (Yonhap)