Iran sees light at end of tunnel for assets frozen in Korea
Central Bank of Iran Gov. Abdolnaser Hemmati and Korean Ambassador to Iran Ryu Jeong-hyun reached a deal Monday in Tehran on how to transfer and use part of the Iranian assets held in Korea, said the Iranian government in a statement on its website.
The two sides were said to have agreed on the transfer of Iranian assets, and Iran's Central Bank was said to have relayed the amount of money it wants to be transferred and which banks it should be transferred to.
Tehran has pressured Seoul to unlock assets worth some $7 billion held in the Industrial Bank of Korea and Woori Bank since September 2019, when U.S. sanction waivers for Korea's imports of Iranian oil expired.
Ryu was said to have conveyed that Seoul is prepared to take all measures required to enable Iran to use its assets in Korea and was quoted as saying there were no “limit and restriction in that regard,” according to Iran’s statement.
Hemmati in turn welcomed a “change” in Seoul’s approach but noted that Iran's Central Bank will continue “legal procedures to demand compensation from South Korean banks which refused to cooperate with Iran in the past few years.”
He added that Seoul would need to make a lot of effort “to erase this negative record.”
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that talks had been underway over the frozen assets and that Iran has consented to proposals made by the Korean government, without revealing further details.
But the ministry added that the assets could be released only after consultations with the United States and other related countries.
“The Korean government has been discussing with Iran various ways to use the assets frozen here,” Choi Young-sam, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a press briefing in Seoul Tuesday. “The Iranian side agreed to a proposal made by our side in a meeting between Ambassador to Iran Ryu Jeong-hyun and the governor of the Iranian Central Bank on Feb. 22, local time.”
He added, “However, for the actual release of the frozen assets, further consultations with relevant countries and the international community are needed, so the Korean government will continue to make efforts for discussions in this regard.”
When asked if there was a discrepancy between Iran’s announcement and the Korea government’s, Choi replied, “I believe the Iranian side made an announcement after the meeting as they understood it.”
The Korean government has suggested the use of the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement, a channel established last year to bring food and medicine to Iran despite U.S. sanctions.
However, the transfer of funds to a Swiss account and its use for UN contributions or for purchases of humanitarian items such as medicine and medical equipment is only possible if the United States agrees to exemptions from sanctions on Iran.
Seoul has been in talks with Washington over such sanction waivers for humanitarian purposes, though Iran earlier expressed distrust of the United States.
In May 2018, the Donald Trump administration withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Jcpoa), signed in July 2015 by Iran, Britain, France, China, Russia, Germany and the United States, under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.
The Joe Biden administration has officially offered to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told European foreign ministers in a call last Thursday that Washington would join them in seeking to restore the 2015 accord.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Sunday it reached a deal with Iran to allow its inspectors access to verify and monitor nuclear activity in the country for the next three months, which could then lay the foundation for Washington and Tehran to restart nuclear negotiations.
At the beginning of the month, Iran agreed to release all crew members of a Korean-flagged oil tanker seized in the Strait of Hormuz in January with the exception of the captain.
The MT Hankuk Chemi, which was en route to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia with 20 crew members, was seized by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Persian Gulf on Jan. 4.
Iranian authorities blamed chemical and environmental pollution issues for the ship's seizure, accusations rejected by the operator of the vessel and protested by the Korean government. Observers saw the seizure as Iran pressuring Korea over the frozen assets.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]