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S. Korea withdraws destroyer to negotiate tanker release

South Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun (left) meets with his Iranian counterpart Abbas Araghchi in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 10 2021. (Iranian Foreign Ministry-AFP)
South Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun (left) meets with his Iranian counterpart Abbas Araghchi in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 10 2021. (Iranian Foreign Ministry-AFP)
South Korea pulled its anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit from the Strait of Hormuz near Iran in a show of good faith in the negotiation to release a South Korea-flagged tanker seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps for polluting the sea, Seoul officials said Monday.

Tehran lodged a strong complaint with Seoul on Jan. 5, a day after it seized the tanker, when South Korea deployed the unit to the strait off the Iranian coast. South Korea withdrew the destroyer in a sign of goodwill before fielding a delegation there, Seoul officials added.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry declined to disclose further details on the unit, citing security concerns.

The delegation, headed by the vice foreign minister here, returned empty-handed Thursday, after a five-day trip where Seoul and Tehran failed to work out differences over $7 billion in funds frozen in Korean banks because of US sanctions.

Iran, seen as leveraging the seizure to secure the cash, refused the delegation’s offer to pay back the sum via medical supplies, and continues to accuse the tanker of “environmental pollution.” The vessel operator has denied it polluted the sea. 

The US reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after it unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal made with five other major powers that sought curbs on its nuclear programs in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran has vowed to bypass the US sanctions.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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