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Iranian newspaper warns South Korea could be blocked from Persian Gulf shipping

File photo shows US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a press briefing in Washington on May 2021. (Getty Images)

Iran’s leading conservative newspaper Kayhan has urged government authorities to block South Korea from shipping traffic to and from the Persian Gulf over the East Asian country’s refusal to repatriate more than $7 billion worth of funds it owes Iran for energy imports in the past.

In an article published on Kayhan’s front page on Saturday, the Persian language daily’s chief editor Hossein Shariatmadari said Iran has every right to block South Korea’s access to commercial shipping services passing through the Strait of Hormuz on the mouth of the Persian Gulf based on the United Nations Law of the Sea conventions adopted in 1958 and 1952.

“We can and we must close the Strait of Hormuz to South Korean commercial ships and crude tankers and all vessels that carry cargoes for South Korea or have been loaded from the South Korean point of origin and never allow a passage until they have paid back the $7 billion they owe to our country,” read part of the article.

The article said such a move would protect Iran’s rights and interests as a littoral state that is responsible for safety of passage through the key maritime waterway.

More than a third of the world’s seaborne crude shipments pass through the Strait of Hormuz which connects the Persian Gulf to the high seas.

However, Iran has been unable to freely ship its own crude cargoes through the Strait since 2018 when the United States pulled out of and international deal on Iran’s nuclear program and imposed sanctions on the country.

South Korea has refused to repatriate the Iranian funds under the pretext that the move would lead to severe American penalties on its economy.

Iranian officials confirmed media reports last week that Iran and South Korea had reached an initial agreement on the repatriation of the funds. Sources said three US nationals jailed in Iran for security charges would be freed in exchange for the release of the funds.

However, reports and statements by US officials on Saturday suggested that the issue has not been finalized yet.

That comes as wider talks between Iran and international powers to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal has stalled since last month over what Iran has described as lack of decisiveness in Washington.

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