Iran tells S. Korea not to politicise seizure of tanker

South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi was seized by Iranian Guards near the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Jan 4, 2021.
South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi was seized by Iranian Guards near the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Jan 4, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBAI • Iran said on Sunday that South Korea should avoid politicising the seizure of its vessel by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Gulf, while pressing Seoul to release US$7 billion (S$9.3 billion) in funds frozen amid United States sanctions, Iranian state media reported.

South Korea's Vice-Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun arrived in Teheran on Sunday to discuss the release of the South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi, which was seized by the Guards on Jan 4 near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Iran has denied allegations that the seizure of the tanker and its 20-member crew amounted to hostage-taking, and said it was Seoul that was holding Iran's funds "hostage".

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told Mr Choi that Seoul "should refrain from politicising the issue and fruitless propaganda and allow the legal proceedings to proceed", Iran's state TV reported.

Iran's government spokesman had earlier said the vessel was seized based on an Iranian court order for "environmental pollution".

However, the ship's Busan-based operator, Taikun Shipping, told Reuters that there was nothing to indicate before the seizure of the vessel that the Iranian authorities were probing possible violations of environmental rules.

Mr Araqchi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency: "For about 21/2 years, South Korean banks have frozen Iran's funds... It is not acceptable... In our view, this is more because of Seoul's lack of political will (to resolve the issue) than the US sanctions."

The US reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018, after President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Teheran's 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers.

Under that deal, Iran had agreed to curb its nuclear work in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Iran has retaliated by bypassing the restrictions of the deal step by step.

In a move that could complicate efforts by US President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the deal, Teheran said yesterday that it has resumed 20 per cent uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear facility.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2021, with the headline 'Iran tells S. Korea not to politicise seizure of tanker'. Print Edition | Subscribe