South Korean officials in talks to end Iran tanker seizure, unblock assets

Tehran, Jan 11 (efe-epa).- A delegation of South Korean officials led by the country’s vice foreign minister Choi Jong-Kun met with Iranian counterparts Monday in a bid to unblock Tehran’s seizure of a South Korean oil tanker.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi, who met Choi on Sunday, urged South Korean authorities not to “politicize” the incident.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seized the HT Hankuk Chemi tanker in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday following a court order citing the vessel as a contamination risk

An underlying complication in the negotiations is Iran’s insistence for South Korea to release some $7 billion in assets that have been frozen in South Korean banks amid the threat of United States sanctions.

President Donald Trump’s administration revived and toughened sanctions on Tehran following Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

Choi is to discuss the issue with the governor of the Central Bank of Iran, Abdolnaser Hemmati, on Monday.

Tehran has denied accusations that the seizure of the vessel amounted to hostage-taking while claiming that its assets were “illegally” blocked in South Korea.

“This action (by South Korea), which is only surrender to ransom demand from the US, is not acceptable, and naturally the expansion of relations (between Tehran and Seoul) would be meaningful only when this problem is solved,” the Iranian deputy minister said in a statement.

Choi said that granting Iran access to its assets was a priority of the South Korean government.

South Korean officials last week urged Tehran to immediately release the seized vessel. The ship’s operator, DM Shipping, denied allegations of environmental contamination. EFE-EPA

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