South Korea summoned Iran’s ambassador after the hardliner Kayhan newspaper suggested Iran block Korean ships at Hormuz to force the release of its frozen funds.
Korean banks have refused to pay around $7 billion owed to Iran due to their fears of punitive United States action against them under US ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions in place since Washington in 2018 left the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
South Korea's deputy foreign minister, Yeo Seung-bae, summoned the ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari Monday. Kayhan’s editor Hossein Shariatmadari had written: "We can and must close the Strait of Hormuz to South Korean cargo ships and oil tankers and all ships that carry South Korean commodities … and not allow them to navigate through the Hormuz Strait as long as they have not paid their $7 billion debt to our country.”
Kayhan is financed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office and its editor is appointed by Khamenei.
The Yonhap news agency reported that Shabestari had explained that Kayhan did not speak for the Iranian government. South Korea has said it would like to see the money transferred but given US sanctions it needs Washington’s agreement.
Tehran’s foreign affairs spokesman said Monday that arrangements over repatriating Iran’s funds were “none of Washington’s business.” In January 2021, Iran detained a Korean tanker and in April 2021 banned imports of some Korean home appliances – apparently as a means to bring pressure on Seoul.