EghtesadOnline: South Korea is finalizing talks with the United States about using some of Iran's money frozen in Seoul under US sanctions to pay Tehran's UN dues in arrears, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday.
Progress in the talks for solutions to unblock Iran’s assets in South Korea appears to have affected Tehran's decision to release most of the crew members of a seized South Korean oil tanker, according to the official, news outlets reported.
Tehran said Tuesday its judiciary gave permission to free the sailors, except for the captain, from the MT Hankuk Chemi that has been seized by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps since Jan. 4 for polluting the ocean. Twenty sailors were aboard the ship, including five South Koreans.
Tehran has long complained about the Korean government’s refusal to unlock its forex assets to buy essential goods including much-needed medicine including the coronavirus vaccine.
Senior officials of the Central Bank of Iran said last month Seoul had even not agreed to use the $7-9 billion in frozen accounts to sell goods to Iran.
South Korea, experts recall, is a strong security, military, economic and political ally of the United States and “coordinates” its key foreign policy issues with Washington. The US has 28,000 troops in that country for which Seoul reportedly pays $1 billion a year.
"The issue has been almost settled. We've finished discussions (with the US) about paying dues and we need to have discussions on very technical parts," the Korean official claimed. "There's been considerable progress on the issue of dues and I think this served as a chance (for Iran) to feel our sincerity."
Tehran has requested that Seoul use part of its frozen funds to pay off part of its UN contributions in arrears. But the money needs to be converted from Korean won into US dollars, and the US sanctions currently ban dollar-based transactions with Iran.
The ministry official also claimed that the government has been in talks with the new administration in Washington about a non-dollar payment method.
Seoul says it is continuing consultations with Washington over ways to expand other humanitarian trade with Iran using the frozen money.