South Korea should unfreeze Iran's assets as soon as possible: FM Zarif
Iran’s foreign minister says the measure taken by South Korean banks to freeze the Islamic Republic’s assets for fear of US sanctions constitutes the main factor that prevents further expansion of relations between the two countries, calling on Seoul to take swift and necessary actions to settle the issue.
Speaking in a meeting with South Korea’s visiting First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun on Monday, Mohammad Javad Zarif said freezing Iran’s foreign exchange assets in Seoul is the main barrier to further development of bilateral relations.
"Given the health and economic consequences of coronavirus, gaining access to these resources is currently the main priority in the two countries' relations," the top Iranian diplomat added.
Zarif noted that the "illegal move" by South Korean banks has elicited negative sentiments among the Iranian people and has seriously tarnished the image of this country, and this is why Iranian lawmakers have reiterated their legal right to address this issue so that it could be resolved as soon as possible, Zarif said.
The South Korean official, for his part, said his country is determined to solve the issue and would make its utmost efforts to prepare the ground for Iran's access to its assets.
Iranian authorities have said on several occasions that they expect South Korea to do more on the release of nearly $8.5 billion blocked illegally in two South Korean banks under the pretext of US sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
In a meeting with Choi in Tehran on Sunday, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araqchi took to task the government of South Korea for illegally freezing the Islamic Republic’s assets over fear of the US sanctions, warning that Seoul should not submit to the extortionist policies of the White House.
“For about two and a half years, South Korean banks have illegally frozen Iran’s foreign exchange assets over what they describe as fear of US sanctions. This measure, which is only due to submission to US' extortionist policies, is not acceptable,” Araqchi said.
South Korea calls for swift release of its tanker
In his meeting with Zarif, the South Korean diplomat also pointed to the seizure of a South Korean-flagged tanker by the naval force of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and called for accelerating the settlement of the issue.
Zarif said the ship was impounded for polluting the Persian Gulf waters, adding, "This is a merely technical issue, which is under investigation within the framework of legal and judicial regulations" and, therefore, it is not possible for the Iranian administration to interfere in the judicial proceedings involving the tanker.
The IRGC Navy said in a statement on January 4 that the Hankuk Chemi tanker had departed from the Petroleum Chemical Quay in Saudi Arabia's Jubail port before being impounded earlier in the day for polluting the Persian Gulf waters with chemicals.
The statement added that the ship, which carried 7,200 tonnes of ethanol, is now being held at Iran's southern Bandar Abbas port city.