TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran expressed hope on Tuesday that South Korea and Japan would agree to release about $1 billion of Iranian funds frozen in the two countries because of U.S. sanctions, but South Korea said it still needed to discuss the matter with the United States.
Iranian Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati had reached preliminary agreements with the ambassadors of Japan and South Korea on the fund releases.
"He (Hemmati) has said that it seems that, in a first step, about $1 billion of foreign exchange resources of the Central Bank of Iran will be provided to us,” Rabiei told a news conference streamed live on a government website.
Rabiei said talks are also underway with Iraq and Oman to release Iranian funds stuck in those countries.
But in Seoul, a South Korean foreign ministry official told reporters: "The actual unfreezing of the assets will be carried out through consultations with related countries, including the United States.”
The comment suggests Washington - which is insisting Iran move first in the nuclear standoff - will have a de facto veto on any transfers.
Iran has repeatedly demanded the release of about $7 billion of its funds frozen
in South Korea and $3 billion in Japan.
Iranian officials have sought ways of setting up channels to allow Tehran to use the funds blocked in Japan and South Korea to buy humanitarian goods.
The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers.
Earlier this month, a South Korean foreign ministry official said Seoul was finalizing talks with Washington about using some of the frozen funds to pay Tehran’s UN dues in arrears.
In the past, South Korea has claimed it was seeking to use the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA) channel to pay back Iran’s debt through Swiss companies’ sales of goods to Iran, but the plans have remained on shelves so far.
Iranian officials have said that South Korea alone is holding between $7 billion and $10 billion in oil payments.
The government released a separate statement on the deal, quoting Hemmati saying it would continue to demand compensation from South Korean banks.
"The South Korean side needs to make a lot of efforts to erase this negative record,” he added.
Teheran was a key oil supplier to resource-poor South Korea until Washington’s rules blocked the purchases.