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Seoul Planning Humanitarian Trade With Iran To Help Fight Coronavirus Epidemic

People wait in line to receive protective supplies for COVID-19 provided by the Basij, a militia loyal to Iran's Islamic republic establishment, in Tehran, March 15,

South Korean foreign ministry announced March 22 that Seoul is exploring ways to provide humanitarian assistance to Iran to fight the coronavirus epidemic.

President Hassan Rouhani reportedly sent a letter to his South Korean counterpart earlier this month and Iran made requests thorough other channels, prompting Seoul to focus on the issue.

Apparently, Rouhani requested 3.2 million COVID-19 test kits and other supplies, The Korea Herald reported on March 23.

"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 Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry also said Seoul is holding consultations with Washington and other concerned countries to possibly resume humanitarian trade with Iran.

The United States has imposed tough sanctions on Iran since 2018, but American officials insist these do not hamper humanitarian trade. Iran complains that the banking restrictions, as a part of the U.S. sanctions, make it hard to import medicines and medical supplies.

This year, the United States reached agreement with Switzerland to open a humanitarian trade channel with Iran to allow Swiss companies to sell food and medicine, with the first transaction already completed.

Now, South Korea is planning to launch a similar mechanism, The Korea Herald quoted a foreign ministry official who said, “"The US basically recognizes the need for humanitarian support for Iran in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak”, and added, that Seoul is consulting with both the U.S. and Iran.