US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley. FILE PHOTO

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley. FILE PHOTO

US Appears To Be Asking Seoul To Release Iran's Frozen Funds


US Special Envoy for Iran held spoke Thursday with a South Korean diplomat to discuss cooperation over negotiations to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap issued a brief report on Robert Malley’s discussion with First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-Kun but provided no details about how South Korea can help in the process of talks with Tehran.

Two South Korean banks hold $7 billion of Iran’s funds from the time when Seoul was purchasing oil from Tehran before full US sanctions on Iran’s crude exports were imposed in May 2019.

Iran has been hinting that the United States should release frozen Iranian funds before it returns to the talks. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told Iranian state television on October 2 that he refused overtures to meet with US officials while he was attending the UN General Assembly in New York in September, asking that Washington should first unfreeze $10 billion.

It is not clear if Malley’s conversation with the South Korean diplomat was related to the issue of the frozen funds, or whether the US intends to release them to convince Iran to return to the Vienna negotiations. Malley asked for South Korea to play a “constructive” role in efforts to resume the negotiations.

However, Choi reiterated South Korea’s willingness to provide support necessary for the resumption of the nuclear talks "in consideration of the importance of Seoul-Tehran relations,” Yonhap quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

Iran left the Vienna multilateral nuclear talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, JCPOA, in June, saying its new president needed time to form a government, but has so far not set a date for its return.

The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany that have been negotiating with Iran since April have warned that time is running out for fruitful talks as Iran continues to enrich uranium and advances its nuclear program that would make the revival of the agreement impossible.

Washington and its European allies have said they will make no new concession to Tehran until it returns to the talks based on what has so far been offered by the West.

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