April 12 (UPI) -- South Korea has agreed to return Iran's frozen assets "as soon as possible," citing Iran's right to access its funds and Seoul's national interest.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Monday in Tehran that Iranian assets frozen in 2018 were to be returned to Tehran, Yonhap and Newsis reported Monday.
"We have previously said that this money is Iranian money, and it is right to return it to its owner," Chung said, according to reports.
On Sunday during a joint press conference with Iran's First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, Chung said the two sides are strengthening cooperation with other countries to resolve the issue of Iran's South Korean won holdings.
In 2020, Iran held an estimated $9.2 billion at South Korean banks. Some of the funds were held at the Bank of Korea, but most of the funds, $7 billion, were frozen at two South Korean banks, the Industrial Bank of Korea and Woori Bank, according to Yonhap.
Chung's visit to Iran, the first by a South Korean prime minister in 44 years, also was an opportunity for diplomacy.
The Iranian funds are being released after the seizure of a South Korean tanker by Iran's armed forces in January. The MT Hankuk Chemi and its remaining crew were officially freed on Friday. Tehran had accused the ship's captain of pollution, but on Friday the foreign ministry said that Iran's prosecution found no evidence of wrongdoing.
On Monday Chung said the two countries are working to deliver assistance to Iran through a Korea-Iran Humanitarian Trade Working Group. Humanitarian aid is not subject to sanctions, Chung said.
U.S. sanctions against Iran were enforced during the Trump administration. The Biden administration said last week it is ready to lift Iran sanctions not compatible with the Iran nuclear deal, signed during the Obama administration.