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Iran’s top negotiator: S Korea must release Iran’s frozen assets regardless of Vienna talks

The top Iranian negotiator to the ongoing negotiations in the Austrian capital on the removal of Iran sanctions has met with South Korea’s deputy foreign minister in Vienna to discuss release of Tehran's frozen assets in Seoul.

Ali Bagheri Kani, who is also Iranian deputy foreign minister for political affairs, said in the meeting held with Choi Jong-kun on Thursday that regardless of the outcome of the talks in Vienna, the South Korean government is obliged to unfreeze Iran’s frozen funds, stressing that unilateral US sanctions cannot justify the non-payment of Seoul’s debts to Tehran.

“The South Korean government is obliged to release Iran’s blocked assets, and unilateral US sanctions cannot justify non-payment of debts to Iran,” he said.

The Iranian diplomat also underlined that South Korea’s illegal and unjustifiable refusal to repay its debts to Iran would be a dark spot in the history of relations between the two countries, adding that Seoul should act as soon as possible to unfreeze Iran’s assets.

Pointing to the significance of Seoul-Tehran relations, Choi, for his part, offered explanations about Iran’s blocked funds in South Korea and said his country is making efforts to repay its debt to Iran.

The meeting, which was held at the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Vienna, was not directly related to the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the P4+1 group and was convened within the framework of routine bilateral consultations between the two countries at the request of the Korean side.

South Korea owes Iran more than $8 billion for gas condensate imports from the country but has so far refused to pay it. South Korea sees unilateral sanctions and the so-called US maximum pressure as an impediment to paying off its debt. The issue has been criticized multiple times by the Iranian officials.

Iranian authorities have said on several occasions that they expect South Korea to do more on the release of the assets blocked illegally at two South Korean banks under the pretext of the United States’ sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Tehran has been returning Seoul’s refusal to cooperate in repayment of the debts by exercising restrictions on imports from South Korea.

Iran and the five remaining signatories to the 2015 deal — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — resumed talks in Vienna on Monday after the parties took a three-day break for the New Year.

The eighth round of the Vienna talks began on December 27 with a focus on the removal of all US sanctions. The US is not allowed to directly attend the talks due to its pullout in 2018 from the landmark deal with Iran.

The top Iranian negotiator has said the success of the Vienna talks depends on achieving an agreement on the effective removal of the cruel US sanctions against Tehran.

Iran says the sanctions should be removed in a verifiable manner and wants the US to give a guarantee that it will not abandon the deal again.

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