DUBAI: South Korea’s vice foreign minister met with their Iranian counterpart to negotiate the release of the captured vessel and its crew, US-funded broadcaster Radio Farda reported.

Choi Jong-kun met with Abbas Araqchi to discuss the South Korean-flaged MT Hankuk Chemi seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Jan. 4 as it was in the area of the Strait of Hormuz, the report added.

Iran said the IRGC seized the ship because it was leaking oil in violation of environmental laws.

“Seoul shouldn’t politicize the issue and rather wait until the factual investigation of the case by the Iranian judiciary is complete,” Araqchi was quoted as saying.

South Korea used to be a major buyer of Iranian oil until US ended their sanctions waiver on imports of Iranian oil in 2019. Around $7 billion of Iran’s funds are now frozen in two South Korean banks.

“For two-and-a-half years, our accounts have been frozen because of US sanctions and during this time South Korea has allowed itself to be bossed around by the United States," Araqchi added.

The US reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

“I’m a little relieved to know that the crew is safe, but the situation is serious,” Choi Jong-kun said.

According to South Korean Yonhap News Agency, Iran wants to free the money to purchase medical supplies and COVID-19 vaccines.

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