South Korea's Vice FM departs for Iran to negotiate release of seized oil tanker

Asia (IP) - First Vice Foreign Minister of South Korea's left for Iran on Sunday to negotiate an early release of the South Korean oil tanker and its crew seized by Iranian authorities last week.

Iran PressAsia: Choi Jong-kun boarded a plane early Sunday and is set to arrive in Iran via Qatar, officials said. He is expected to meet his counterpart and other high-level officials at the Iranian foreign ministry, joined by the South Korean delegation that arrived earlier in Tehran.

On Monday, Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) seized the MT Hankuk Chemi carrying 20 crew members, including five South Koreans, on allegations of environmental pollution. The ship is currently at a port in Bandar Abbas, a city on Iran's southern coast. The South Korean Embassy in Tehran confirmed the safety and health of all 20 sailors Wednesday.

"I'm a little relieved to know that the crew is safe, but the situation is serious," Choi told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul.

"We hope to hold in-depth talks with key officials whether it is a consular issue or other major issues between South Korea and Iran," he added.

Iran has said that the seizure took place due to 'technical issues' and that the matter will be addressed in line with its judicial process. The ship's operator has denied the oil pollution allegations.

The seizure came amid lingering tensions between Seoul and Tehran over the latter's money frozen at South Korean banks under U.S. sanctions. Iran has urged the release of assets worth some US$7 billion frozen in two South Korean banks since September 2019, when Washington's sanctions waiver for South Korea's imports of Iranian oil expired.

According to a diplomatic source here, Iran made a request to South Korea for the use of the frozen money to purchase medicine, medical equipment, and COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine procurement mechanism.

"It will be a good opportunity to clearly hear once again what the Iranian government wants and to distinguish what (we) can do and cannot do regarding the issue, as well as what needs to be consulted on with the US," Choi said.

First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun speaks to the press at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Jan. 9, 2021.


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