South Korean vice foreign minister visits Iran over tanker seizure

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun will arrive in Iran today for talks following the Iranian seizure of a

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Photo: Getty Images

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun will arrive in Iran today for talks following the Iranian seizure of a South Korean oil tanker on Monday.

Planned before Monday’s incident, this trip will likely see Choi demand the release of the South Korean vessel and its crew in recompense for furthering talks on the release of Iran’s frozen financial assets. Historically, Iran has seized oil tankers for diplomatic leverage against the US and its allies. Although South Korea and Iran have enjoyed strong bilateral economic ties, the 2018 reimposition of US sanctions on the latter has forced South Korea to freeze Iranian company bank accounts, which hold over $9 billion.

An interim deal is likely where vessel and crew are released immediately and later Iran will be allowed to use the frozen assets to purchase COVID-19 vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program. COVAX would allow US dollar purchases of the vaccine to occur regardless of sanctions. Iran, which was hit particularly hard by the pandemic, will likely pursue this option. Both sides may wait for January 20 when a US Biden administration may be less inclined to seize the Iranian assets as it seeks to revive the Iranian nuclear deal.

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