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 as a result of sanctions imposed by the United States.
“In the earliest possible time, a working-level delegation led by the regional director will be dispatched to Iran to try to resolve the issue on the ground through bilateral negotiations,” South Korea’s international ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam informed a briefing in Seoul on Tuesday.
Iranian state TV beforehand cited a Tehran authorities official as saying South Korea’s Vice Foreign 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 Foreign Minister Choi will focus on “various pending issues” between the 2 nations on prime of the seizure, spokesman Choi stated.
News 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 stated have been air pollution violations.
Asked concerning the standing of the ship’s crew earlier than his assembly on the Seoul international ministry, Iranian ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari informed reporters “all of them are safe”.
Meanwhile, an Iranian authorities spokesman on Tuesday rejected allegations that Iran’s seizure of the South Korean vessel amounted to hostage-taking. He stated it was South Korea that was holding $7bn of Iran’s funds “hostage”.
“We’ve become used to such allegations … but if there is any hostage-taking, it is Korea’s government that is holding $7bn which belongs to us hostage on baseless grounds,” spokesman Ali Rabiei informed reporters at a information convention streamed dwell on-line.
The incident got here as Iran reveals rising indicators of willingness to claim 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 stated it had resumed 20 p.c 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 “maximum pressure” coverage.
The ship’s Busan-based operator, Taikun Shipping Co Ltd, informed Reuters information company there was nothing to point earlier than the seizure of the vessel that Iranian authorities have been probing doable violations of environmental guidelines.
“If it really was marine pollution, as they [Iranian media] say, the coast guard was supposed to approach the ship first,” Taikun’s administration director Lee Chun-hee stated by phone.
“But instead, armed soldiers approached the crew and said they needed to be investigated.”
South Korea’s international minister Kang Kyung-wha stated 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 Middle East Institute, National University Singapore stated the incident supplied an instance of Iran’s willingness to flex its muscle as Joe Biden prepares to take workplace, and that the frozen belongings would seemingly be raised in talks with Seoul.
“No doubt, in negotiations for the release of the tanker and its crew, release of the funds by South Korea will be the key demand on the Iranian side,” he stated.
Last Sunday, the Tehran Times newspaper reported that Iran hoped to barter an settlement to make use of the frozen funds to “barter” for vaccine doses within the battle in opposition to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and different commodities.
According to Yonhap, a international ministry official stated the Iranian authorities had tried to safe vaccines by the worldwide COVAX initiative, backed by the World Health Organization.
Tehran had been in talks with the ministry and the US Treasury to pay for the doses with South Korean received, Yonhap stated, citing a supply within the ministry.