Following a request by the South Korean government, Iran has decided to release 19 crewmembers of a South Korean vessel that has been detained by Iran for a month.
The decision was reached after a phone conversation on Tuesday between South Korea's first vice foreign minister Choi Jong-kun and his Iranian counterpart Seyyed Abbas Araghchi.
Twenty crew were on board, including five South Korean nationals, 11 from Myanmar, two from Vietnam and two from Indonesia.
The South Korean captain and the ship, however, were not allowed to leave due to ongoing investigations for alleged "environmental pollution".
In January, Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards (core) Corps seized the South Korean oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz citing "environmental pollution", a claim for which it has provided no evidence.
Seoul's vice foreign minister urged Iranian authorities to make efforts for a prompt release of the captain and the vessel.
The two sides have also agreed to continue dialogue with Tehran to resolve a series of issues, including Iran's frozen assets in South Korea.
Choi said Seoul will do what it can on its own, while at the same time, communicating with Washington on matters that the South Korean government cannot do unilaterally due to U.S. sanctions.
Experts say communication with Tehran has contributed to the early release.
"Even though it's not very clear whether the money was released or not. But what's really important is that Iran and Korea have rebuilt the confidence and trust with each other."
Iran insists the seizure was only because of the "technical issue", not because of the frozen money, but it has publicly complained over its assets frozen in South Korea that are said to be worth around 7 billion U.S. dollars.
The money was seized after former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and placed sanctions on Iran, but the Biden administration seems to be more willing to engage in dialogue with Tehran.
Sources in Seoul said they are currently discussing how to bring the crewmembers back home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yoon Jung-min, Arirang News.