DUBAI, United Arab Emirates ( Associated Press) – Using Iranian bank funds freed from US sanctions, South Korea has paid Iran $18 million in outstanding dues to the United Nations, Seoul said on Sunday. The move was apparently approved by Washington to restore Tehran’s suspended voting rights in the world body.
The South Korean foreign ministry said Seoul had paid the amount using Iranian assets frozen in the country after consultation with the United States Treasury – a possible sign of flexibility amid nuclear talks.
The ministry said it expects Iran’s voting rights to be restored soon after the suspension for dues earlier this month.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Press TV, the English-language arm of Iran’s state television, quoted Iran’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations as confirming that the dues had been paid and Iran’s voting rights would be restored soon. He did not specify how the money was paid.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran, as an active member of the United Nations, has always been committed to paying its membership on time,” Majid Takht-e-Ravanchi said. He expressed displeasure at the US for “brutal and unilateral sanctions against Iran”, which have prevented Tehran from receiving funds to pay dues for the past two years.
The money was pumped into Korean banks under sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump after the US withdrew from Tehran’s historic nuclear deal with world powers. The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control must license these transactions under US banking sanctions imposed on Iran. The Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the unfrozen money.
The Biden administration wants to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, which gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for sanctions on its nuclear program.
Diplomats are now engaged in delicate negotiations in Vienna to revive the deal, although a success remains elusive as Iran abandons every limit on the deal imposed on its nuclear enrichment. The country now enriches a tiny amount of 60% purity – a small, technological step away from weapons-grade levels – and spins far more advanced centrifuges than allowed.
Under the United Nations Charter, a nation that has been owed arrears for the previous two full years loses its voting rights in the General Assembly.
Earlier this month a letter from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres revealed that Iran was among several criminal countries on that list, including Venezuela and Sudan. The General Assembly may make exceptions to the rule, determining that some countries face circumstances “beyond the control of the member”.
According to the secretary-general’s letter, Iran will have to pay at least $18.4 million to restore its voting rights.
Iran also lost its voting rights in January last year, prompting Tehran to rebuke the US for crushing sanctions that have hoarded billions of dollars in Iranian funds in banks around the world. Tehran secured voting rights last June after making minimum payments on its dues.
Iran over the past few years has pressured Seoul to release nearly $7 billion in revenue from oil sales that have been frozen in South Korean banks as the Trump administration tightened sanctions on Iran.
Frozen funds hang in the balance as diplomats struggle to revive the nuclear deal. Senior South Korean diplomats, including First Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun, went to Vienna this month to discuss the fate of the assets with their Iranian counterparts.
Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.