Iran berates South Korea for ‘submitting’ to U.S. after tanker seizure

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Jan. 11 (UPI) — Iran said South Korea had made a “big mistake” by freezing Iranian assets, and blamed Seoul for “succumbing to U.S. demands for ransom” during a meeting with a senior South Korean diplomat.

Tasnim News Agency reported Monday that Abdolnasser Hemmati, governor of the Central Bank of Iran, said South Korea’s decision to freeze Tehran’s assets in two South Korean bank accounts, was “unacceptable.” He made the statement during his meeting with Seoul’s Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun.

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According to Hemmati, South Korea froze Iranian assets “for years” and “refused to resolve the issue.” Seoul denied Iran access to its funds, estimated at $7 billion, after the United States strengthened Iran sanctions and withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

Choi arrived in Tehran on Sunday to negotiate the release of the MT Hankuk Chemi, a South Korea-flagged tanker seized last week.

South Korean diplomats stationed in Iran said they have made direct contact with the crew detained in Bandar Abbas. The ship’s company includes five South Koreans, 11 Myanmarese, two Vietnamese and two Indonesians, according to South Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo.

Iran has said confiscating the ship was not politically motivated and that Tehran is not interested in negotiating with Seoul on the ship’s release. Using “judicial procedures,” the ships will be investigated for alleged pollution at sea, Tehran has said.

On Monday, Hemmati said in 2019 South Korean authorities pledged to work with Iran to unfreeze the sanctioned assets, but “nothing was done,” Iran’s news agencies reported.

“Iran has begun legal action to secure assets,” the Iranian central governor said.

On Sunday, Choi met with his Iranian counterpart Abbas Araghchi, who accused Seoul of “succumbing to U.S. ransom demands.” The United States’ Iran sanctions are “illegal and inhumane,” Iran’s vice foreign minister said.

Araghchi also said bilateral relations with Seoul will only move forward when the asset issue is resolved, according to South Korea press reports.