“I have said before that this money is Iran’s money and should be returned to its owner,” Chung said in Tehran on Monday.
“It’s best to find a way and return it quickly,” he told reporters traveling with him.
Chung stressed that the release of 7 billion dollars of Iran’s frozen funds was in South Korea’s best interests and that efforts needed to be made to overcome the “various constraints” that are preventing it from happening, according to Yonhap news agency.
The South Korean prime minister arrived in Tehran on Sunday for talks with senior Iranian officials on bilateral issues, particularly the release of the frozen funds.
Iran has been seeking to access the funds frozen by South Korean banks amid the coronavirus pandemic over the past year.
Several billions of dollars of Iran’s money, mostly from oil and gas exports, are held abroad and are difficult to access because of US sanctions.
About 2.7 billion dollars deposited by the Seoul branch of Iran’s Bank Mellat is held by the Bank of Korea, while more than 7 billion dollars worth of Iranian oil money is stuck at the Industrial Bank of Korea and Woori Bank, according to Yonhap news agency. South Korea’s refusal to free them has caused a diplomatic spat.
During his stay in Tehran, Chung held meetings with senior officials such as Iran’s First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri, who stressed that South Korea must take action to unfreeze Iran’s foreign exchange assets as soon as possible, noting that freezing Iran’s money had badly tarnished the image of South Korean banks among Iranians.
Chung, who is scheduled to return to Seoul on Tuesday, said efforts to hold a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani failed through “due to various reasons, including the COVID-19 situation in Iran.”
Chung’s visit to Iran, the first such trip by a South Korean prime minister in 44 years, follows the Islamic Republic’s release of a Korean oil tanker and its captain about three months after its seizure over causing oil pollution.