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South Korea’s prime minister in Iran for high-level talks

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kyun has arrived in Tehran for talks with senior Iranian officials.

He was welcomed by Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami upon arrival on Sunday afternoon.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Friday that the prime minister’s three-day visit would focus on bilateral issues, including illegal restrictions placed in the way of access to resources of the Central Bank of Iran in South Korea.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported earlier on Sunday that the prime minister was visiting Iran for bilateral talks amid lingering tensions over Tehran’s call to unlock its funds frozen in Seoul under US sanctions.

It added that during his three-day visit that ends on Tuesday, Chung is expected to discuss ways to enhance the Seoul-Tehran relations. The visit marks the first such trip by a South Korean prime minister in 44 years.

On his agenda of talks in Tehran is meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri, Parliament Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Ali Larijani, who is an advisor to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

Chung is also scheduled to meet with officials of South Korean companies working in Iran, including Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics Inc. and SK Networks Co.

Iranian authorities have said on several occasions that they expect South Korea to do more on the release of nearly $8.5 billion blocked illegally in two South Korean banks under the pretext of US sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the measure taken by South Korean banks to freeze the assets for fear of the sanctions constitute the main factor that prevents further expansion of relations between the two countries.

Chung’s visit to Iran follows the Islamic Republic’s release of a Korean oil tanker and its captain about three months after its seizure over alleged oil pollution.

On January 4, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)’s Navy said the South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi tanker had been detained upon a request by Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization and a verdict by the office of Hormozgan province’s prosecutor.

Carrying 20 crew members, the ship was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz when it was impounded for causing water pollution. It was headed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after loading 7,200 tonnes of oil chemical products in Saudi Arabia.

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