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Iran Agrees to Free South Korean Ship’s Crew

SEOUL, South Korea — Iran has agreed to free the 20-member crew of a seized South Korea-flagged ship, each nations mentioned Tuesday, in what seemed to be the primary important gesture by the Iranians to de-escalate the issue since impounding the vessel a month in the past.

The Iranian transfer may have been meant to ship an oblique sign to the Biden administration, which has indicated it desires to keep away from an extra deterioration in relations with Iran after they worsened sharply underneath former President Donald J. Trump.

In return for the discharge of the crew, the South Korean authorities mentioned it had pledged speedy motion to deal with Iran’s complaints about its incapacity to entry $7 billion in Iranian cash that has been frozen in South Korean banks due to American sanctions reimposed by Mr. Trump.

It was not instantly clear from the announcement when the crew members could be launched. Iran mentioned the ship and its captain would stay in its custody, pending an investigation into what the Iranians have described as violations of maritime air pollution legislation, the unique motive they gave for having seized the vessel.

Laden with 7,200 tons of chemical compounds, the ship, the Hankuk Chemi, was taken into custody by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps throughout a patrol within the Persian Gulf on Jan. four. South Korea strongly protested the seizure, and the ship’s proprietor referred to as Iran’s accusations absurd.

It quickly grew to become clear that Iran had taken custody of the ship at the least partially to stress South Korea, a powerful American ally, over the sanctions ordered by Mr. Trump after he renounced the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and main world powers. These sanctions included blocking Iran’s entry to billions of dollars in Iranian oil income deposited in international banks.

Iran started disregarding its commitments underneath the nuclear settlement in response to Mr. Trump’s actions, and has threatened additional steps that embrace presumably blocking worldwide nuclear inspectors from visiting.

Whereas President Biden has mentioned he desires to rejoin the nuclear settlement if Iran resumes compliance, Iran has mentioned the USA should drop the sanctions first. Neither facet has publicly proven an instantaneous willingness to discover a diplomatic resolution.

However Iran’s settlement to free the South Korean ship’s crew, which Saeed Khatibzadeh, a Overseas Ministry spokesman, described as a humanitarian gesture, appeared meant to painting some measure of flexibility on sanctions-related points.

“This can be a sign to point out a willingness to renew discussions or in any case take the tensions down a notch, and maybe to open the door for South Korea releasing seized Iranian property,” mentioned Farhad Alavi, a associate at Akrivis Legislation Group, a Washington agency that makes a speciality of sanctions legislation.

“Equally, I might not be stunned if President Biden lifts or suspends some much less delicate or maybe extra political Trump-era sanctions within the coming weeks or months — one thing extra symbolic than substantial,” Mr. Alavi mentioned.

There was no fast remark from the Biden administration on the information concerning the South Korean crew members.

South Korea’s Overseas Ministry mentioned in an announcement that the choice to free the crew members got here throughout a phone dialog on Tuesday between Iran’s deputy international minister, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, and his South Korean counterpart, Choi Jong-kun.

The crew consists of 4 South Koreans, and the opposite members are Burmese, Vietnamese and Indonesian, the assertion mentioned.

Mr. Choi welcomed the Iranian choice and urged the Iranian authorities to launch the captain and the ship as effectively.

Throughout his phone dialog with Mr. Araghchi, Mr. Choi promised “speedy” motion to assist tackle Iran’s grievances over the $7 billion in impounded cash.

Mr. Choi additionally instructed Mr. Araghchi that South Korea would seek the advice of American officers in Washington over the matter, the ministry mentioned.

Choe Sang-hun reported from Seoul, and Farnaz Fassihi from New York. Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from Eastham, Mass.

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