South Korea to ship delegation to Tehran after Iran seizes tanker

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South Korea is sending a delegation to Iran to hunt the discharge of a tanker seized in Gulf waters by Iranian forces, with a senior diplomat set to go forward with a scheduled go to to Tehran on Sunday amid tensions over $7bn in Iranian funds frozen in Korean banks resulting from sanctions imposed by the US.

“Within the earliest potential time, a working-level delegation led by the regional director can be dispatched to Iran to attempt to resolve the difficulty on the bottom via bilateral negotiations,” South Korea’s international ministry spokesman Choi Younger-sam advised a briefing in Seoul on Tuesday.

Iranian state TV beforehand cited a Tehran authorities official as saying South Korea’s Vice Overseas Minister Choi Jong-kun was already scheduled to go to earlier than the seizure of the tanker Hankuk Chemi to debate Iran’s demand that the frozen funds be launched.

Vice Overseas Minister Choi will focus on “numerous pending points” between the 2 international locations on high of the seizure, spokesman Choi mentioned.

Information of the visits got here as South Korea’s international ministry referred to as within the Iranian ambassador to Seoul for a gathering and urged the early launch of the tanker and its crew of 20. It was carrying a cargo of greater than 7,000 tonnes of ethanol when it was seized on Monday over what Iranian media mentioned had been air pollution violations.

Requested concerning the standing of the ship’s crew earlier than his assembly on the Seoul international ministry, Iranian ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari advised reporters “all of them are protected”.

In the meantime, an Iranian authorities spokesman on Tuesday rejected allegations that Iran’s seizure of the South Korean vessel amounted to hostage-taking. He mentioned it was South Korea that was holding $7bn of Iran’s funds “hostage”.

“We’ve develop into used to such allegations … but when there’s any hostage-taking, it’s Korea’s authorities that’s holding $7bn which belongs to us hostage on baseless grounds,” spokesman Ali Rabiei advised reporters at a information convention streamed dwell on-line.

The incident got here as Iran exhibits growing indicators of willingness to say its claims within the area as US President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take workplace later this month, succeeding Donald Trump.

On Monday, Tehran additionally mentioned it had resumed 20 % uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear facility – a breach of a landmark nuclear deal Iran had signed with six world powers in 2015.

The US unilaterally withdrew from the pact in 2018, with the Trump administration reimposing crippling sanctions on Iran as a part of its “most strain” coverage.

The South Korean-flagged tanker seized by Iran is seen within the Gulf [IRGC/WANA via Reuters]

The ship’s Busan-based operator, Taikun Delivery Co Ltd, advised Reuters information company there was nothing to point earlier than the seizure of the vessel that Iranian authorities had been probing potential violations of environmental guidelines.

“If it actually was marine air pollution, as they [Iranian media] say, the coast guard was alleged to strategy the ship first,” Taikun’s administration director Lee Chun-hee mentioned by phone.

“However as a substitute, armed troopers approached the crew and mentioned they wanted to be investigated.”

South Korea’s international minister Kang Kyung-wha mentioned on Tuesday she was making diplomatic efforts to safe the discharge the tanker and that she had made contact along with her counterpart in Tehran, the Yonhap information company reported.

Tilak Doshi, a visiting senior fellow at Center East Institute, Nationwide College Singapore mentioned the incident offered an instance of Iran’s willingness to flex its muscle as Joe Biden prepares to take workplace, and that the frozen property would seemingly be raised in talks with Seoul.

“Little question, in negotiations for the discharge of the tanker and its crew, launch of the funds by South Korea would be the key demand on the Iranian facet,” he mentioned.

Final Sunday, the Tehran Instances newspaper reported that Iran hoped to barter an settlement to make use of the frozen funds to “barter” for vaccine doses within the struggle in opposition to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and different commodities.

In accordance with Yonhap, a international ministry official mentioned the Iranian authorities had tried to safe vaccines via the worldwide COVAX initiative, backed by the World Well being Group.

Tehran had been in talks with the ministry and the US Treasury to pay for the doses with South Korean received, Yonhap mentioned, citing a supply within the ministry.