SEOUL (SOUTH KOREA) – In a bid to seek the release of a tanker seized by Iran, South Korea is dispatching a delegation to Tehran. The tanker was captured in Gulf waters by Iranian forces.
News of the visits came as Seoul’s foreign ministry called in the Iranian ambassador to South Korea for a meeting and urged the early release of the South Korean-flagged tanker and its crew of 20. It was carrying a cargo of more than 7,000 tonnes of ethanol when it was seized on Monday over what Iranian media said were pollution violations.
The incident comes as Iran shows increasing signs of willingness to assert its claims in the region as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office later this month, succeeding Donald Trump.
Iranian ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari told reporters that the crew members are safe.
South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun had been scheduled to visit Tehran on Sunday amid tensions over $7 billion in Iranian funds frozen in Korean banks due to U.S. sanctions.
Vice minister Choi will discuss “various pending issues” between the two countries on top of the seizure, foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam told a briefing in Seoul on Tuesday.
“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,” spokesman Choi said.
South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha said on Tuesday she was making diplomatic efforts to secure the release the tanker and that she had made contact with her counterpart in Tehran.
Last week a local media reported that Iran was hoping to negotiate an agreement to use the frozen funds to “barter” for vaccine doses in the fight against the global coronavirus pandemic and other commodities.
According to reports Iranian government had tried to secure vaccines through the global COVAX initiative, backed by the World Health Organization. Tehran had been in talks with the ministry and the U.S. Treasury to pay for the doses with South Korean won, cited a source.