SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) — Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun will visit Iran next week for talks on bilateral ties and other issues, his office said Friday, amid lingering tension over Tehran’s call to unlock its funds frozen here under U.S. sanctions.
Chung’s visit to Iran from Sunday to Tuesday — the first such trip by a South Korean premier in 44 years — follows Tehran’s release this week of a Korean oil tanker and its captain about three months after its seizure over alleged oil pollution.
“Through this visit, Prime Minister Chung will create an opportunity to enhance traditional friendly relations between South Korea and Iran, and develop them in a future-oriented manner,” his office said in a press release.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said that Chung will discuss the issue of Iran’s funds — worth US$7 billion — frozen in Korean bank accounts during his visit to Tehran, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
Chung is scheduled to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other top officials, including Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the Iranian parliamentary speaker, Khatibzadeh said.
The two countries have been consulting over how to release part of Iran’s funds through a Swiss humanitarian trade arrangement designed to facilitate the flow of humanitarian goods to the Iranians.
The release of the oil tanker this week raised speculation that Seoul and Tehran might have made some headway in their consultations on the frozen money issue.
Later in the day, Chung had a phone call with the released captain of the oil tanker, MT Hankuk Chemi, and expressed his appreciation for trusting the government and patiently waiting for the release, his office said.
In August 2017, Chung visited Iran as then speaker of the National Assembly. A South Korean prime minister last visited the country in 1977.