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Iran to let Central Bank sue S Korea if it fails to act on frozen funds, Amir-Abdollahian warns

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (Photo by IRNA)

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has warned that Tehran will not stop the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) from filing a lawsuit against South Korea over the freezing of Iranian assets in its banks under US pressure if Seoul fails to take practical strides to unblock the funds.

“The US pressure [on South Korea] is a fact, but we can no longer wear a smile and turn a blind eye to it,” he said in an interview with IRIB TV 1 television network on Saturday night, in response to a question about Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea and his telephone conversation with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, on the issue.

“The Korean side is worried that the CBI is set to lodge a complaint. We negotiated an agreement during the conversation, and I am waiting to see the results. I told him (Chung) that this is unacceptable for our people since we have been waiting for three years, and lip service would not help resolve the issue if your actions fail to yield objective and practical results,” Amir-Abdollahian said.

The Iranian FM said he told Chung that Tehran would not stop the CBI from lodging a lawsuit against South Korea in case if fails to take “objective, practical” measures on the case as per the agreements since “speech therapy cannot solve our problem. Of course, I hope the agreement [recently] reached will bear fruit.”

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 at two South Korean banks under the pretext of the United States’ sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

It had been previously agreed for the funds to be used by Iran towards the purchase of humanitarian items, something that has again been prevented as a result of Korea’s commitment to honoring the sanctions.

Tehran has been returning Seoul’s refusal towards cooperation by exercising restrictions on imports from South Korea.

Top MP suggests Iran should be tough with South Korea 

Chairman of the Industry and Mining Committee at the Iranian Parliament Ezzatollah Akbari-Talarposhti likewise slammed South Korea’s refusal to release frozen Iranian assets, saying Iran’s home appliance market should not be awarded to a country that gives in to US sanctions and that Tehran should take certain measures in this regard.

“Seoul’s justification for confiscating Iranian assets under the pretext of US sanctions is not acceptable since the US is not allowed to impose its own domestic laws on international trade. This is a blatant violation of free trade,” Akbari-Talarposhti told IRNA on Sunday.

He added, “The Iranian home appliance market should not be awarded to a country that cedes to US sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The administration should take necessary measures to prevent the import of Korean goods into the country.”

S Korean diplomat: Iranian producers have progressed well after our departure

Meanwhile, a senior South Korean diplomat has praised Iranian home appliance producers over progress achieved following the departure of two South Korean companies – LG and Samsung – from Iran’s market.

“I am aware of the progress made by Iran’s home appliance industry in the wake of South Korea’s departure. Koreans want to share their experience with Iranian producers,” Deputy South Korean Ambassador to Tehran Park Duck-soo said.

On September 30, Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi ordered ministries of trade and finance to introduce an outright ban on home appliances imports into the country after the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei warned that such shipments could paralyze local manufacturers.

The semi-official Fars news agency published images of the order signed by chief of staff at the Iranian presidency office Gholamhossein Esmaeili banning imports of any finished home appliances products.

The order was issued after Ayatollah Khamenei issued a notice to Raeisi warning that a potential return of foreign brands of home appliances, including two of two South Korean companies, to the Iranian market would be a huge blow to local manufacturers and their expansion projects.

‘Iran asked US to unfreeze $10 billion to show good will’

Elsewhere in his remarks on Saturday night, Iran’s foreign minister said even though US officials tried last month to discuss the re-start of negotiations on the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Washington must first release $10 billion of Tehran’s frozen funds as a sign of good will.

“The Americans tried to contact us through different channels (at the UN General Assembly) in New York, and I told the mediators if America’s intentions are serious, then a serious indication was needed ... by releasing at least $10 billion of blocked money,” Amir-Abdollahian said in the TV interview.

“They are not willing to free $10 billion [of funds] belonging to the Iranian nation so that we can say the Americans considered the interests of the Iranian nation at least once in the past several decades,” he added.

In early April, Iran and the remaining parties to the JCPOA began to hold talks in Vienna after US president Joe Biden’s administration voiced willingness to rejoin the nuclear agreement and remove sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Since the beginning of the Vienna talks, Tehran has argued that the US — as the first party that violated the JCPOA — needs to take the first step by returning to full compliance with the agreement. Tehran also says it will resume all its nuclear commitments under the deal only after the US removes all the sanctions in practice.

The US, however, is intent on keeping the core elements of the sanctions as a tool of pressure against the Islamic Republic - a non-starter in the negotiations.

‘Iran will maintain a fine balance of ties with East, West’

Additionally, Amir-Abdollahian said in the TV interview on Saturday night that Iran will maintain a fine balance of diplomatic relations with Asian and Western countries.

“Countries around the world adopt measures on the basis of mutual interests. This is something that the Islamic Republic and the establishment have really adhered to. As we would not tie all our resources to the West and the United States, we would not do either as regards China and Russia,” Iran's foreign minister said.

“It has always been stated that we expect a fundamental change in America’s behavior. As to China, we pursue a balanced foreign policy but would not tie all our resources to China and Russia. We have mutual interests on the basis of which we establish relations with different countries,” he said.

“National independence should not be undermined at all. Our duty is to safeguard the motto “Neither East, nor West — but the Islamic Republic!” In terms of diplomatic ties, we welcome relations with both Eastern and Western countries,” Amir-Abdollahian said.

On September 17, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) approved documents for Iran's full membership at the Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance at its 21st summit in Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe.

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