South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesperson said that the country was sending a delegation to Iran “at the earliest possible date” in a bid to try to negotiate the release of an oil tanker seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Iran said that the vessel had violated pollution rules with chemicals, which the operators have denied. South Korea, on the other hand, moved a warship with an anti-piracy unit close to the Strait of Hormuz.
While speaking to reporters, the South Korean ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam said, “A delegation… will be dispatched to Iran at the earliest possible date to try to resolve the matter through bilateral negotiations”. He added that a previously arranged visit to Iran by Vice-Foreign minister Choi Jong-kun will still go ahead early next week.
MT Hankuk Chemi is being held at Iran’s Bandar Abbas port city. The vessel was carrying 7,200 tons of petrochemicals from Jubail in Saudi Arabia when it was intercepted. The company which owns the vessel has been unable to connect with the captain since the seizure.
Relations between Iran and Seoul have been strained since the US reimposed tough sanctions on Iran and banned countries, including major Asian customers, from buying its petroleum. Iran has said that it has at least $7 billion from oil sales trapped in South Korea and the funds are needed to purchase humanitarian goods, including coronavirus vaccine.
South Korea presidential office said that it views the current incident very gravely. They said, “The US State Department joined South Korea in calling for the tanker’s immediate release, accusing Iran of threatening “navigational rights and freedoms” in the Persian Gulf in order to “extort the international community into relieving the pressure of sanctions”. As per the reports by AP, the US Navy’s Mideast routinely patrols the area along with an American-led coalition, which monitors the Strait of Hormuz. A European-led effort operates in the same area.
Meanwhile, the vessel seizure comes after an announcement by Iran that it would start enriching uranium to 20%, which is in violation of the nuclear deal. The move, which Iran had notified the UN nuclear watchdog about last week, was one of many mentioned in a law passed by Iran’s parliament last month in response to the killing of the country’s top nuclear scientist. Although the purity level needed to produce nuclear weapons is 90%, way above Iran’s announcement of enriching uranium to up to 20% purity, the decision has caused a stir among other signatories of the deal.