Iran Finally Releases Seized S.Korean Tanker As Vienna Talks Start On "Positive Note"

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, Apr 09, 2021 - 06:00 PM

Iran has finally released a South Korean-flagged tanker that the IRGC had siezed back in January, which developed into a diplomatic standoff over billions of dollars in frozen Iranian funds held in South Korean banks due to US-led sanctions.

While some of the crew of the Hankuk Chemihad had been allowed to leave in February, a dozen along with the captain stayed on in order to conduct maintenance with the hope of eventually being able to sail it home. On Friday South Korea's foreign ministry issued a statement confirming the ship's detention had been lifted and that it "departed safely today".

South Korea's Hankuk Chemihad, Getty Images

The month before the Hankuk Chemihad was seized in the Strait of Hormuz with the official charge being that it had "violated rules of pollution", Tehran had mounted protest with Seoul for freezing close to $10 billion in Iranian assets (according to foreign ministry figures), though the governor of the Central Bank of Iran had estimated it at $7BN.

Regardless, the tanker seizure did bring significant leverage and pressure to bear against the South Koreans, and upon Friday's freeing of the tanker the country signaled headway was made. Details have not been released or confirmed, but the Associated Press had the following update:

But an official from South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity under regulations, said Seoul’s willingness to resolve the issue of Iranian assets tied up in South Korea "possibly had a positive influence" in Iran’s decision to release the vessel.

The official said Iran had acknowledged South Korea’s attempts to resolve the dispute as it became clear the issue was "not just about South Korea’s ability and efforts alone" and was "intertwined" with negotiations over the return to Tehran’s foundering nuclear deal.

It does indeed also appear a good faith gesture to ensure talks go well in Vienna, where the US and Iran are engaging "indirectly" via the other signatories to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, mainly through European mediators. 

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that things in Vienna are surprisingly on a "positive" track following weeks of threatening rhetoric and demands from the US and Iranian sides...

In particular it is now being reported that working groups set to tackle uranium enrichment issues at the summit are "making progress" and will resume next week.

Early on in the Vienna talks the Biden administration reportedly offered some level of quick sanctions relief in order to compel Iran back into compliance with uranium enrichment caps and other stipulations.