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Iran, South Korea bank negotiating new account after capture of tanker

Iran and South Korea are in talks after Iran's Revolutionary Guards captured the MT Hankuk Chemi, a South Korea-flagged tanker, in the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 4, according to Seoul on Wednesday. File Photo by Tasnim News Agency/EPA-EFE
Iran and South Korea are in talks after Iran's Revolutionary Guards captured the MT Hankuk Chemi, a South Korea-flagged tanker, in the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 4, according to Seoul on Wednesday. File Photo by Tasnim News Agency/EPA-EFE

Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Iran and South Korea are discussing creating a new bank account for the Iranian Embassy in Korea amid a standoff over a seized tanker and Tehran's demands.

South Korea's foreign ministry said Wednesday that the Iranian Embassy in Seoul and an unnamed Korean bank are "in negotiations" regarding the opening of a new Iranian account, News 1 reported Wednesday.

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"The government is supporting a smooth consultation for the opening of an account," Seoul said, according to the report.

Iran protested a South Korean decision to freeze Tehran's assets in two bank accounts, estimated at $7 billion, after Seoul complied with the Trump administration's Iran sanctions.

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When South Korea did not release the funds, Iran's Revolutionary Guards captured the MT Hankuk Chemi, a South Korea-flagged tanker, in the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 4.

The negotiations confirmed Wednesday by Seoul are a sign the two sides could be cooperating on the dispute.

South Korea has proposed using the funds to buy COVID-19 vaccines for Tehran, since humanitarian purchases are exempt from sanctions. According to Seoul's foreign ministry, the issue of opening an Iranian Embassy account has been discussed for the past two to three years.

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Earlier this month, South Korean diplomats traveled to Tehran to meet with senior officials, including Abdolnaser Hemmati, governor of the Central Bank of Iran.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, Hemmati said U.S. sanctions against Iran are "against international law and not justified by legal principles."

Hemmati also said Seoul lacked resolve to bring closure to the issue and denied that the oil tanker seizure is linked to the frozen funds, according to the report.

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South Korea has requested help from Iran's neighbor, Qatar, to negotiate the release of the Hankuk Chemi. According to Bloomberg this week, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Qatar will "facilitate negotiations."

The detained crew includes five South Koreans, 11 Myanmarese, two Vietnamese and two Indonesians.

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