Seoul officials on Wednesday said Iran and South Korea will continue negotiating for the immediate release of the Korean ship and to settle the matter of Tehran’s frozen assets in Korea.
First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun, along with the country’s delegation concluded their three-day visit to Tehran after tensions arose following the seizure of a South Korean oil tanker at the Persian Gulf last January 4.
“Through multi-faceted consultations with leading Iranian officials, South Korea and Iran will work together to craft swift, constructive solutions to the pending issues based on the long-standing friendship between the two countries,” the foreign ministry said in an official press statement.
Iran earlier claimed that Korea-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi was seized due to environmental violations, which the ship’s operator has denied. Aboard the ship were five Korean nationals and 15 other crew members.
The seizure triggered theories that Iran’s move is linked to its dissatisfaction over what they perceive as Korea’s shortcomings to let their country retrieve the $7 billion funds frozen in South Korean banks due to US-led sanctions.
However, Iran insisted that they seized the ship due to technical grounds and that the matter can be resolved through legal proceedings. It also demanded Seoul to address the locked fund in their country.
Based on the press release by the Seoul’s ministry, Choi said it was “unacceptable” that Tehran still not gave any proof to support its claim that the ship was seized due to environmental violation, particularly about sea pollution.
Choi encouraged Iran to seamlessly let go of the seized ship and its crew. He requested Iran to assure that the sailors are safe.
Meanwhile, speaking on the frozen fund, Choi asked for Tehran’s cooperation in looking for a sufficient way to use the assets by recognizing the “reality” behind the close connection of Korea and United States’ financial systems. He added that South Korea cannot do away with consulting on the issue with Washington.
Choi had a set of meetings with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Kamal Kharrazi, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, during his Iran trip.
The ministry also discussed matters with his Iranian counterpart, Abbas Araghchi; with Iran’s central bank chief, Abdolnasser Hemmati; chairman of the Commission of National Security and Foreign Policy at Iran’s parliament, Mojtaba Zolnouri; and Deputy Justice Minister Mahmoud Hekmatnia.
Choi left for Qatar on Tuesday and is expected to return to South Korea on Thursday.