By Seung-ho KIM
At the time when this article will be printed, I may be in the plane bound for Korea and more probably already arrived at the hustle bustle city of Seoul, after wrapping up my ambassadorial duty in Iran. My last day in Tehran is coincided with the historical meeting between the two Korean Presidents.
Only one year ago, the two Koreas fired missiles to show off how capable and determined they are to destroy the other by force. The verbal threats exchanged after each fire work left a deep scar and exacerbated the already existing animosity against each other. The photo of the two Presidents reminds me of the one I saw immediately after my appointment as Korean ambassador to Iran.
It was the signing ceremony of the JCPOA in which the foreign ministers of the most powerful nations were lined up with Dr. Zarif at the center. That photo thrilled me. As a diplomat, I know how difficult it is for a small country to negotiate with the dominating powers even one by one. These Iranians who successfully manage the most influential states all alone are going to be my counterparts. I felt myself shrunk. I also jealously admired not what they achieved but how they achieved. Through dialogue, Iran did it.
On the last day in Tehran, I finally regain my pride thanks to the summit dialogue between the two Koreas. I also feel indebted to Iranians because the Korean dialogue was inspired, I believe, one way or another by the Iranian dialogue with the majors in solving the nuclear issue.
Dialogue was the major theme that I imposed on myself as Ambassador to Iran. I did not want our two countries relations to be overly dominated with commercial interests, mostly represented by trade. Dialogue is not a mere exchange of verbal sounds. It is rather a spiritual way of communication to reach your friends’ soul and heart. Korea and Iranian relation is often mystified by the large mathematical figure of trade, which is at best a myopic, selfish way that aims at your wallet, not heart.
A stabilized and balanced relation was the lighthouse that I navigated towards during my stay in Iran as Ambassador. I am not sure that my efforts were effective enough, desperate enough to bridge the geographical and cultural gap between the two countries. However, on leaving Iran, I can humbly enumerate several things that can be interpreted as a sign of dialogue in good faith. Recently a Korea section was opened at the Iranian national library. Special exhibitions for national museum artifacts were reciprocally organized both in Tehran and Seoul. Two countries’ symphony orchestra performed each other’s music. Large cultural delegation visited several times not only in Tehran but also in Isfahan. My residence was offered many times to Iranian artists for their personal exhibition.
Every Thursday, Korean embassy is open to the public for Korean movies. Even in economic fields, a system was set up for sharing technologies among small and medium companies. A framework agreement was signed in order to lend up to 8 billion euro to the large Iranian projects where Korean companies are allowed to participate. All of these would have not been realized as planned without dedicated support of the Iranian entities concerned. During my tenure here, I have been surrounded with willing Iranians who are eagerly helpful and curious in any matters related to Korea. I thank them.
Upon arrival three years ago, I found these Iranians are full of confidence, pride and expectation for the future that are yet shaped but brought by themselves through the nuclear deal. On leaving this country, I sense some anxiety and uncertainty of my Iranian friends for the future that could be externally enforced this time. But I am rather optimistic.
The Inter-Korean dialogue may in return churn mood of dialogue in the stage of international affairs. I trust the capability of Iranian diplomacy which stunned the world three years ago. Guarding the deal with sympathetic friends could be easier than making one in a hostile and enforcing atmosphere. Iran, seen outside by a diplomat of thirty years’ experience is much more influential than Iranians thought to be inside.
My stuff is already shipped away. The things I carry with are intangible. My deep indebtedness to Iranians, admiration for their maturity and thoughtfulness, their overdosed hospitality and kindness are fully loaded in my heart. If our two peoples’ hearts are to be charged like mine, heartfelt dialogue among us will expand and cultivate a full blown relation between Iran and Korea.