Iranian officials tell the South Korean delegation that Seoul must give Tehran access to its frozen money, refrain from “politicizing” the seizure of the ship.
Tehran, Iran – Iran’s foreign minister told a visiting South Korean delegation that the “technical” issue of a ship seized by Iranian forces would be dealt with in his country’s courts, as he called for the release of billions of dollars. dollars of frozen funds.
In his meeting on Monday with South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun, Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran’s main concern is accessing some $ 7 billion in assets linked to southern banks. Korean due to US sanctions aimed at mitigating the effect of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The illegal act of the South Korean banks has significantly deteriorated the Iranian people’s view of the country and seriously damaged his reputation, ”Zarif said, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The South Korean diplomat flew to Tehran on Sunday to join a delegation that arrived last week following the seizure of the South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for “environmental pollution “.
Zarif said the case was “under legal and judicial review” and out of government hands.
Iran has denied claims that the seizure of the tanker and its 20 crew in the Gulf amounted to hostage-taking, but insisted South Korea was holding Iranian money “in hostage ”for more than two years because of US sanctions.
In May 2018, US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a nuclear deal signed between Iran and the world powers three years earlier and reimposed tough measures designed to cripple the Iranian economy. US President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to restore the historic deal.
Zarif called on the South Korean government to resolve the fund-freeze issue as quickly as possible, saying Iranian members of parliament are also keen to play a role if the issue persists, without giving further details.
Choi reportedly said Seoul intended to resolve the issue and requested the prompt release of the seized vessel and crew.
In another meeting on Monday, the South Korean diplomat was told by Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati that Tehran considered the continued freezing of funds “unacceptable” and raised the threat of legal action if the issue did not occur. was not resolved.
“This behavior of South Korea is a major mistake and it is fundamentally unacceptable that South Korea is blocking Iranian money by following orders from a third country,” Hemmati said, according to the Central Bank.
“We also had funds in other countries and we accessed and used them despite US sanctions.”
Hemmati seemed to be referring to neighboring Iraq, where at least $ 5 billion in Iranian money is being held. Iran’s Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian visited Iraq in late December after Iran drastically reduced its natural gas exports on that sum.
Iraq has agreed to repay part of it to allow Iran to use part of the funds to purchase a COVID-19 vaccine that has not yet been named.
On Monday, the South Korean delegation also made a stop at the Strategic Foreign Affairs Council (SCFA), a think tank whose members are directly appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“South Korean companies have lost good opportunities in Iran in recent years,” said SCFA chief Kamal Kharazi. “The sanctions have forced Iran to focus on its local capabilities so that we are now self-sufficient in meeting many of our home appliance needs.
“Even if relations between the two countries are normalized in the future, South Korean companies should think about investments, transfer of technical knowledge and participation in manufacturing rather than selling their products.”
Kharazi, a former foreign minister, also said that the fact that other ships are currently circulating freely in the Gulf shows that the seizure of the ship is not political.
The South Korean diplomat reportedly told him he was happy to have been able to establish telephone contact with the ship’s captain and to have consular access to his crew.