Iran's ambassador to Seoul was summoned to the South Korean foreign ministry on Tuesday to lodge a protest over the Iranian threat to sue Seoul over frozen assets and calling the Korea-U.S. relationship one of "master and servant".
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi on Sunday warned of legal action in the International Court of Justice if Korea continued to refuse to pay off more than $7 billion in oil money owed to Iran that has been blocked in Korean banks.
Speaking to the local media Mousavi had likened the relationship between Washington and Seoul to a "master-servant relationship" and said this was the reason Seoul was submissive to the U.S. and afraid of violating its sanctions if they released the Iranian blocked funds.
According to Koreatimes, the Korean foreign ministry's director-general for Africa and the Middle East voiced regret to the Iranian ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari about the "inappropriate" remarks of the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman.
"The Iranian side called for understanding and stressed that it was not the official position of the Iranian government," Kim In-chul, the minstry's spokesman told the reporters.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on June 14 ordered Central Bank Governor Abdolnasser Hemmati to take "firm measures" including legal action against South Korea to get the frozen assets released.
Hossein Tanhaee, the chairman of Iran and South Korea's joint chamber of commerce, in June told Borna news agency that Iran's frozen assets in South Korea were between $6.5 billion to $9 billion.
Tanhaee added that not only Korean banks refuse to release Iran's money, some of them have also demanded commission and maintenance fees for Iran's accounts.
Due to U.S. sanctions, Iran can only use the assets to purchase humanitarian items such as food and medicine from Korea.
The statistics of South Korea's Customs indicate that in the first half of the current year Korea's exports to Iran only amounted to $90 million. Before the reintroduction of U.S. sanctions in 2018, annual Korean exports to Iran amounted to around $4.
South Korea has stopped buying Iranian oil since May 2019, when the United States stopped issuing exemptions to friendly countries.