October 8, 2021
Foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian yesterday issued a severe ultimatum from Iran to his South Korean counterpart, which can be summarized as follows: “If you don’t give us back our money, we’ll stop broadcasting Korean TV serials.”
During a speech in Moscow on Tuesday night, the new face of Iranian diplomacy claimed that South Korea had failed to meet certain “demands” by the Islamic Republic. He did not specify what, but the comments are widely understood to relate to the around $7bn of Iranian assets frozen in the country due to US sanctions.
“Last week,” Amir-Abdollahian said, “I spoke to the Foreign Minister of South Korea about Iran’s demands from this country. The Central Bank of Iran has decided to sue Korean banks through arbitration for non-payment of the claims of the Iranian people.
“The Korean foreign minister’s request was that we stop this, in order find a way to resolve the matter. But we emphasized that unfortunately, South Korea has not taken action for the past three years, despite its promises to resolve the issue.”
As such, Amir-Abdollahian declared: “I told the Korean Foreign Minister that the IRIB [Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting] may even say they will no longer broadcast Korean TV serials, because Korea is not fulfilling its obligations.
“On this point, the South Korean foreign minister stressed that the cultural connection between the two countries should not be cut off.”
The remarks were made at a meeting with the Iranian ambassador and heads of the Iranian diplomatic mission in Russia. In the same speech Amir-Abdollahian heaped praise on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and said that Iran was “ready to make a new and tangible leap in relations” between the two countries.
Most South Korean programs broadcast in Iran are traditional family films and TV series, generally re-runs and years after their initial release. Iranian social media users were gobsmacked – and amused – by the comments after they came to light on Wednesday.
A Twitter user by the name of Hamid Amirali sarcastically wrote: “Dignified revolutionary diplomacy: if you don’t give us our blocked money, we will not broadcast Jumong for the 100th time! They [officials] know the language of the world well.”
Fellow Twitter user Mostafa Faghihi gravely observed: “With the destructive and unbridled cruelty of Mr. Abdollahian’s warning remarks, it is almost certain that ‘South Korea’ will near- surrender in order to be able to broadcast serials again on the national television.” Another, Seyed Fakhredin, agreed: “What a threat! They will definitely deposit the money tomorrow.”
“The politics of lameness,” another user, Hamid Hatifi, wrote. Several Twitter users bluntly asked if the article was satire, while still more Iranians felt the need to tell the world that it was not. “Our laughter,” one said, “becomes one with our cries.”
Given the Islamic Republic’s propensity for brinkmanship, a few observers also wondered how far Iran might be prepared to go. “Go ahead, Sir,” one Twitter user by the name of Nader advised. “Next week, BTS [a South Korean boy band, also known as the Bangtan Boys] and K-Pop will also be banned.”
The diplomatic hammer-blow also came barely a week after the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, had issued a fresh decree banning the import of South Korean home appliances to Iran.