Washington will waive possible sanctions on South Korea over frozen Iranian assets only with “everything” agreed in Vienna nuclear talks, a spokesman has said.

With Choi Jong-kun, South Korea’s first vice-foreign minister, due in Vienna, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that progress over the Iranian assets depended on the nuclear talks, which aim to revive the 2015 Iran agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed when it comes to these issues," Price said. "So I wouldn’t want to get ahead of where we are."

Price said that sanctions relief and the steps that the United States would take together with the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take are at the heart of the Vienna negotiations.

Price said any progress in talks last week was "modest." He reiterated that Washington’s goal was to address the “proliferation threat” of Iran’s nuclear program through “diplomacy and to test the proposition as to whether a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA remains a possibility."

Since introducing ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions and leaving the JCPOA in 2018, the US has threatened punitive action against any third party buying Iran’s oil or dealing with its financial sector. Two South Korea banks hold $7-9 billion of Iranian money, largely owed for oil imports, despite Iran’s protests. In 2021 Iran detained a Korean tanker and last year banned the import of home appliances made by the two leading Korean manufacturers.

Iran has assets frozen not just in South Korea but in Japan, Iraq, India, and China, largely for money owed for oil shipments. The semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported November 13 that Iran's assets frozen abroad totaled $50 billion, with $8 billion in South Korea, $3 billion in Japan, and $6 billion in Iraq.

Iranian officials have made repeated claims that funds would be released, from Iraq in March for instance, but have not subsequently confirmed transfers. Iraq owes Iran around $7 billion for gas and electricity.

Some Iraqi power stations are idle due to a fall in Iranian gas supplies. Iraqi electricity ministry spokesman Ahmed Moussa said Tuesdaythat discussions were continuing with Iran's energy ministry to pay debts with deposits in Tehran's credit fund at Trade Bank of Iraq.

Moussa said gas imports from Iran had fallen from 50 million to 8.5 million cubic meters a day, cutting 4,000 megawatts from the national grid. Iraq’s electricity production has remained low due to various problemsincluding low water levels, supplying only around a third of peak winter demand.

"Iran’s accelerating nuclear steps will increasingly diminish the non-proliferation benefits of the JCPOA" if a rapid understanding on mutual return to compliance is not reached, which Price said remains in the national interest of the US. He stressed. "Iran needs to exercise restraint in its nuclear program and pursue negotiations in Vienna seriously… our goal is to address that proliferation threat through diplomacy and to test the proposition as to whether a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA remains a possibility."

"The clock will run out" but "not on a predetermined date", the US spokesman said.

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