Iran's official news website IRNA has again claimed that a deal is in place to free the country’s frozen funds, despite a categoric denial by the United States.
In a report on Sunday IRNA claimed that an unnamed official of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) confirmed the existence of an agreement and even said that a “regional delegation” visited Iran to facilitate its implementation.
Iran has billion of dollars frozen in various foreign countries because of United States sanctions on its banking sector and the threat of retaliation against third parties conducting financial transactions with Iran.
One of these countries is South Korea, where two banks hold an estimated $7 billion accrued from Iranian oil purchases prior to full US sanctions imposition in May 2019 on Tehran’s oil exports.
Iran has been putting pressure on Seoul to free the funds and last January it seized a South Korean tanker in the Persian Gulf and held it for weeks.
A top Seoul diplomat visited Vienna in January where talks were taking place to revive the 2015 nuclear deal known as JCPOA. The diplomat met various delegations involved in the talks, raising expectations that a deal was in the offing to free the funds in case of a nuclear agreement.
On April 11, IRNA claimed that frozen funds will be released soon, saying that a “high-level regional” official was to visit Tehran to finalize the details. In an odd turn of events, Iran’s foreign ministry immediately denied that any such visit was in the cards.
Hossein Yaghoubi Miab, appointed as head of Iran's central bank international affairs.
The US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday denied the existence of any agreement to free blocked funds.
Sunday’s IRNA report has several odd points. One was a reference to Ned Price’s denial “yesterday”, meaning Saturday. It appeared that either IRNA mixed up the dates or perhaps its text was written on Friday, the day after Price’s statement.
The other strange point is that the report quoted the “manager of international affairs” of the central bank as its source, without naming him.
A search revealed that four days ago Hossein Yaghoubi Miab was appointed as the head of CBI’s international department. He was sanctioned in November 2018 by the US Treasury Department for being part of an illicit network facilitating Iranian-Russian oil shipments to Syria.
IRNA quoted the central bank official, presumably Yaghoubi Miab, as saying that a considerable part of the frozen funds from “a country” will be freed and a delegation has already visited Iran. Asked about how much the funds in question are, the official only said it is much more than what was recently freed by the United Kingdom
In March, the UK paid Iran more than $500 million for the release of two dual nationals held hostage by the Islamic Republic for years.
Periodic claims by Iranian officials about frozen funds being released might be intended to support the battered national currency, rial. As nuclear talks came to a halt in March, the rial has been falling against major currencies once again.
On Sunday, the US dollar rose against the rial to 280,000. Just a few weeks ago the rial was trading at around 255,000 to the dollar.
The CBI official told IRNA that Iran is exporting more oil and receiving more hard currency, a claim often made by officials in recent months. But the impact of more revenues from oil sales is not visible in the local market, with consumer prices rising fast and criticism intensifying even among hardliner supporters of the government.