South Korea has paid part of Iran’s delinquent dues to the United Nations from funds frozen at its banks because of American sanctions, Seoul announced Sunday.

Seoul "on Friday completed the payment of Iran's UN dues of about $18 million through the Iranian frozen funds in South Korea, in active cooperation with related agencies such as US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control and the United Nations Secretariat," the finance ministry said in a statement.

This was the second time South Korea, with approval of the United States has paid Iran’s debts to the UN. A similar payment was made last June but Tehran lost its right to vote once again according to membership rules demanding a minimum amount of arrears to be paid.

Questions were raised in the first week of January when South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-Kun visited Vienna where Iran and world powers are negotiating over the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. The Korean diplomat met all sides and observers expected that Seoul was negotiating to find an acceptable process to begin releasing around $7 billion it holds as frozen Iranian funds.

The case might still prove to be a much wider deal with Seoul than to just pay the UN dues, but at this stage there appears to be very limited progress in the talks for the US to agree to the release of a larger amount.

Tehran is demanding that South Korea must release all the money regardless of the outcome of the Vienna negotiations. Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri-Kani met the Korean diplomat in Vienna on January 5 and demanded the unconditional release of the funds, but Washington said it would waive third-party banking sanctions for South Korea only with “everything” agreed. Meaning a final deal on the nuclear issue.

Nevertheless, many critics say that the Biden Administration is too eager to accommodate Iran’s demands as it has already reduced sanctions’ pressure on Tehran. Richard Nephew, a key member of the US negotiating team and an expert on sanctions reportedly was in disagreement with US chief negotiator Robert Malley and left the negotiations for another job at the state department.

The news about the payment of the UN dues by US agreement came just two days after Iran was the only country to reject a General Assembly vote approving a definition of the Holocaust. Critics were quick to highlight the point, saying Tehran deserves no good-faith gestures.

The funds held by two Seoul banks are Iran’s proceeds from oil exports before the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Iran after it withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018.

Negotiations in Vienna are progressing far too slowly according to the Biden Administration and US allies, the United Kingdom, France and Germany who are participants in the JCPOA talks as signatories of the agreement in 2015. They have told Iran it has weeks, not months, to close a deal. The reason is Iran’s high-level enrichment of uranium in violation of the JCPOA that bring it ever closer to amount of fissile material it would need to make a nuclear bomb.

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