The situation in Iran has worsened further as the country has denied allegations that allege that they have taken hostage the crew of a South Korean ship that was seized by them in the Gulf.
Iran seized the tanker demanding the release of $7 billion frozen funds from Seoul which are under US sanctions.
Iran seized the 20 crew MT Hankuk Chemi while the ship was transiting near the Strait of Hormuz. This comes at a time when the new US President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office in 2 weeks.
For a long Tehran has seized foreign ships and crew to gain leverage in diplomatic negotiations which makes the Strait of Hormuz a risky region for maritime trade. Iran wants Biden to lift US sanctions.
A spokesman from the Iranian government Ali Rabiei said that they have become used to such allegations and alleged that “the Korean government is holding $7 billion hostages on baseless grounds”
Negotiating Ship Release
South Korea has dispatched a delegation to discuss the matter with Iran and asked the Iranian ambassador to convey the same so that the ship is released. Meanwhile, Iran has revealed that the seized tanker has violated environmental regulations and that’s why they were seized by the government.
In past Iran had seized a British Tanker in 2019 and held it for 2 months. Experts believe that Iran’s propensity towards seizing ships in the Gulf will make it difficult to negotiate when Biden takes office on 20th January.
Iran US Sanctions Lifting Demand
At present US sanctions on Iran led to South Korea limiting financial access to the country like all other nations. The sanctions were imposed by the outgoing US President after he scrapped Obama’s Iran-US nuclear agreement.
However, Iran has always been vocal about these sanctions alleging that it’s illegal and hurts their economy. The country has even alleged that the sanctions prevented them from adequately tackling the covid19 pandemic in their region.
Biden on the other hand has promised to revive the nuclear deal but these situations might make it a diplomatic challenge. Iran has already violated the deal since Trump scrapped the agreement. In fact, on Monday, Iran revealed that they have stepped up their underground uranium enrichment facility which violates the nuclear agreement
Joe Biden has said that Iran needs to fully comply so that the deal can be restored but Iran wants the sanctions to be lifted first.
The Southern Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said diplomatic efforts are on ” to secure the release of the tanker”. She has discussed the matter with her Iranian counterpart.
Before going for the foreign ministry meeting Iran’s ambassador to Seoul, Saeed Badamchi Shabestari said that the crew of the seized tanker are safe
Matter Moving in Correct Legal Path
A South Korean delegation headed by South Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choi Jong-kun will be visiting Iran on Sunday to free the ship but the Iranian government has said to be a prescheduled visit not linked to the tanker. The visit was previously planned to discuss the frozen funds
“This matter is moving along … its legal path and does not require a diplomatic trip,” said the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh
“The Korean government’s behaviour in this regard is incomprehensible. … We urge (them) to approach this technical issue rationally and responsibly,” Khatibzadeh added.
No Evidence of Environment Violations
Meanwhile the ship’s operator, Taikun Shipping Co Ltd has said that they haven’t found anything that provides evidence of the alleged environmental violations. They pointed out that in case of such violations the coast guard approaches the ship first instead of armed soldiers.
“If it really was marine pollution, as they say, the coastguard was supposed to approach the ship first,” Taikun’s management director, Lee Chun-hee, said by telephone. “But, instead, armed soldiers approached the crew and said they needed to be investigated.”
Earlier on Sunday, Tehran newspapers carried stories of the Iranian government looking a way out in negotiating the frozen fund and coronavirus vaccine supply
The Iranian government had made attempts to secure the vaccine from South Korea through WHO’s COVAX initiative. They have even asked the US Treasury to pay for the vaccine doses