Seoul, Tehran set for working-level talks over Iranian frozen assets:  source

January 29, 2022 - 21:2

TEHRAN - South Korea and Iran plan to hold working-level consultations next month in Seoul to discuss ways to untangle yearslong disputes over Tehran's assets frozen in South Korea under U.S. sanctions, an informed source said Saturday, according to Yonhap.

Bilateral relations remain frayed over $7 billion in Iranian funds locked in two Korean banks under U.S. sanctions, which were reimposed after Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018.

The thorny issue has drawn renewed attention, with talks to revive the 2015 accord standing at a critical phase, as Iranian officials demand sanctions relief for an agreement.

Seoul officials say the proposed working groups are expected to go over details of a potential money transfer once sanctions are lifted and also discuss other aspects in the event no deal is achieved.

"The working groups are expected to mainly discuss details of the payment method of the Iranian assets if the U.S. grants sanctions relief," the source told Yonhap News on the condition of anonymity. "They could talk further on the possibility of resuming oil imports from Iran once sanctions are lifted."

Iran, which sits on the world's fourth-largest oil reserves, had been a key oil supplier to resource-poor South Korea and in turn imported industrial equipment, household appliances and vehicle parts from Seoul.

South Korea imported $7.8 billion worth of oil from Iran in 2017, but it has stopped Iranian purchases since 2019 due to U.S. sanctions that ban the Islamic republic's oil exports, according to the data by the Korea International Trade Association.

Trump quit the nuclear deal in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that has endorsed the nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Trump boasted his economic war against Iran under his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Trump administration refused to relax illegal sanctions against Iran.

When Trump officially abandoned the JCPOA, his top diplomat Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will impose “the strongest sanctions in history” on Iran. Also in November 2018, John Bolton, who was the White House national security advisor at the time, said, “It’s our intention to squeeze them (Iranians) very hard… until the pips squeak.”

CAPTION

South Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun (2nd from L) meets with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Bagheri Kani, in Vienna on Jan. 6, 2021, to discuss the issue of Tehran's frozen assets under U.S. sanctions.

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