South Korea moved its naval unit operating near the Strait of Hormuz away from the waterway “to foster a positive mood” ahead of negotiations with Iran over a detained oil tanker, Yonhap news agency reports.
Seoul dispatched the 4,400-tonne Choi Young destroyer to the region after Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy impounded MT Hankuk Chemi on January 4 for endangering the marine ecosystem.
South Korea later sent its First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun to Tehran, but was told by Iranian officials that the detention was a prerogative of the Islamic Republic’s judicial system.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibi said at the time that the matter was moving along its legal path and did not require a diplomatic trip.
“The Korean government’s behavior in this regard is incomprehensible. … We urge them to approach this technical issue rationally and responsibly,” Khatibzadeh said.
Quoting a diplomatic source, Yonhap said Monday the retreat of the naval came before the South Korean delegation arrived in Tehran on Jan. 10 for talks with senior Iranian officials over the detention and other issues.
“To create a good atmosphere for the negotiations, the Cheonghae Unit, to which Iran has responded sensitively, was taken away (from the strait),” the source said. “It was a decision to send a friendly signal to Iran ahead of the negotiations.”
The deployment irritated Iran and Iranian Ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari was said to have expressed to Seoul his displeasure over the move.
The Islamic Republic is already annoyed by South Korea’s refusal to release more than $7 billion in Iranian assets that Seoul owes to Tehran, under the pretext of US sanctions.
According to the head of the central bank of Iran, South Korea has been using the assets, suggesting that Seoul’s refusal to repay them is intentional because other countries have found mechanisms to clear their debts under the sanctions.