Iran urges South Korea to release frozen funds immediately

Central Bank of Iran (CBI) Governor Abdolnaser Hemmati said Monday he expects South Korea to be serious on the issue of Iranian funds blocked in the East Asian country over US sanctions or expect repercussions in bilateral ties.

After meeting South Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun in Tehran on Monday, Hemmati said that Seoul “must immediately” release some $7 billion worth of funds it owes to Iran over crude imports in the past, Press TV reported.

“I reminded the Koreans and emphasized that Iran’s blocked funds in (South) Korea belong to the Iranian nation and no one is allowed to play tricks on them,” Hemmati told national TV.

Two South Korean banks have effectively barred Iran’s access to its funds under the pretext that any banking transfer would violate US sanctions on Tehran.

The two banks have reportedly claimed that Iran should be charged for its failure to retrieve the funds which are held in South Korean currency won.

However, Hemmati told the South Korean delegation visiting Tehran that Iran should be able to receive interest on the blocked funds.

He said Seoul has been dragging its feet on the funds by repeatedly promising that they would be released.

“For nearly one and a half year, the Koreans have sent numerous correspondences and announced that they would solve the problem today, tomorrow or a month later,” he said, adding that South Korea’s Choi had shown serious determination to sort out the case for good.

The South Korean delegation led by Choi arrived in Tehran on Sunday on a preplanned visit meant to discuss the issue of blocked funds as well as other issues of bilateral interest.

The trip came just days after a major maritime incident in southern Iran where Iranian military forces impounded a South Korean tanker for polluting the Persian Gulf.

Iran has denied the seizure of the ship has anything to do with the issue of the blocked funds.

Hemmati said he had told the South Korean delegation that Iran would not accept any excuses that releasing the funds would cause problems in Seoul’s relations with Washington.

“There have been other countries where we had funds but we managed to get them back,” he said.

Lack of political will

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Araqchi warned that South Korea 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 told Choi on Sunday.

He added that further expansion of relations between Tehran and Seoul would be only possible in the event that this problem is solved.

Araqchi pointed to various rounds of unfruitful negotiations held recently between representatives from Tehran, particularly the Central Bank of Iran, and Seoul, saying, “We believe that Iran’s foreign exchange resources have been frozen in [South] Korea more due to lack of political will on the part of the South Korean government rather than the cruel sanctions by Washington.”

He urged the South Korean diplomat to help find necessary solutions to the issue and make it a main priority in relations between the two countries.

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