It seems that the reason why the Iranian government persisted in the recent controversy over President Yoon Seok-yeol’s remarks about “Iran, the enemy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)” is because, above all, the economic difficulties caused by US sanctions against Iran have intensified.
It is pointed out that President Yoon’s remarks can be seen as being used by the Iranian authorities to turn the arrow to the outside in a situation where dissatisfaction within the country has grown due to the influence of high-intensity sanctions by the United States, corruption of the regime, and failure of economic policies.
Speaking at a regular briefing on the 23rd (local time), Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Khanani said, “The Korean government showed a willingness to correct mistakes,” regarding the controversy over President Yoon’s remarks, but “from our point of view, the Korean government’s actions are not enough. didn’t,” he said.
Spokesman Kanani continued, “Iranian people have the right to see their money in Korea returned,” and insisted that “this issue should not be linked to other diplomatic issues.”
“The security of our brother country, the UAE, is our security,” said President Yoon at a meeting with the soldiers of the “Ark Unit,” the UAE military training cooperation group, during his visit to the UAE on the 15th. The enemy is North Korea. “We and the UAE are in a very similar position,” he said, drawing backlash from Iran.
The South Korean government immediately explained to the Iranian side through diplomatic channels that “President Yoon’s comments were to encourage soldiers and had nothing to do with Korea-Iran relations,” but on the 18th, the Iranian side summoned Yoon Kang-hyun, the ambassador to Iran, and the South Korean government also sent them on the 19th. Tensions between the two countries showed signs of escalating, such as inviting Iranian Ambassador to Korea Saeed Vadamchi Shavestari to Korea.
Diplomats believe that the controversy surrounding President Yoon’s remarks is highly likely to subside for the time being, based on spokesman Kanani’s statement that “the Korean government has shown a willingness to correct mistakes.”
However, some point out that it is necessary to keep an eye on related trends in that the Iranian side continues to discuss the issue of ‘freezing funds’, which is not directly related to President Yoon’s remarks.
It is known that Reza Najafi, Iran’s Vice Foreign Minister for Legal Affairs and International Organizations, threatened to “review bilateral relations if Korea does not take effective measures” regarding the frozen funds issue when he summoned South Korean Ambassador Yun earlier.
Currently, it is known that about 7 billion dollars of Iranian crude oil exports are frozen in Korean banks. This comes after the US government announced its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) citing suspicions of Iran’s secret nuclear development in May 2018, when former President Donald Trump was in office, and then reinstated sanctions against Iran. .
In 2015, during the presidency of former President Barack Obama, the ‘Iran nuclear agreement’ signed with Germany, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, such as Britain, France, China, and Russia, was a countermeasure against Iran’s suspension of nuclear development. Lifting sanctions against Iran is key.
In the midst of this, the Iranian side has been continuously demanding the return of frozen funds against the Korean government. Even when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) detained the Korean national ship’Korea Chemie’ passing through the Strait of Hormuz in 2021 for 95 days, it was not the’environmental pollution’ claimed by Iran, but the frozen fund issue that became a direct factor, both at home and abroad. point out
However, the South Korean government explains that “the return of the frozen funds is only possible if the Iranian nuclear agreement is restored and the US sanctions against Iran are lifted first.” After the inauguration of President Joe Biden in 2021, the US government started negotiations to restore the Iran nuclear agreement, but it has not yet been able to narrow the disagreement with Iran and maintains sanctions.
In the meantime, Iran’s economic situation has deteriorated due to sanctions from Western countries such as the United States, and political unrest has deepened as anti-government protests and worker strikes have recently continued, such as ‘against the hijab’. In the aftermath, the value of Iran’s currency (rial) is also at a new low every day, exceeding 450,000 rials per US dollar as of the 22nd of this month (local time). Iran’s inflation rate reached 50% last year alone.
Experts say that because of this internal situation, the Iranian side seems to be more and more obsessed with solving the frozen fund problem.
Park Won-gon, a professor at Ewha Womans University, said, “$7 billion is a significant amount for Iran, which is under economic sanctions after the nuclear deal was broken.” . It seems that there is a wish that Korea should try to solve the problem more actively.”
Jang Byeong-ok, professor emeritus of the Iranian language department at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, also said that the Iranian authorities’ latest move is “meaningful that they are trying to quickly find $7 billion tied up in Korea and add it to recovering the bad economy by diverting domestic attention from the pro-democracy protests abroad.”
The $7 billion frozen in Korean banks is said to be the largest amount of Iranian funds frozen in each country under U.S. sanctions.