South Korea is pursuing diplomatic efforts to negotiate the release of a tanker that was seized by Iran on Monday. A delegation from Seoul arrived in Tehran on Thursday to negotiate the release of the South Korean-flagged Hankuk Chemi, which was seized carrying 7,200 tons of chemicals.
Iran said the ship was seized because it was violating environmental protocols and polluting the waters of the Persian Gulf. Although some suspect the seizure could be related to the $7 billion in Iranian funds South Korea froze due to US sanctions, but Tehran is downplaying the connection.
The delegation that arrived on Thursday came ahead of a visit from South Korea’s vice foreign minister, who is arriving on Sunday. The vice foreign minister’s visit was planned before the tanker incident. The two countries were set to discuss the $7 billion in Iranian funds the South Koreans are holding.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said talks on the tanker’s fate would likely not begin until the vice foreign minister arrives. He called the detainment a technical issue that’s “being processed within its professional and judicial framework.”
Before the delegation arrived, a South Korean warship was deployed to the region. On Tuesday, South Korean officials said the destroyer Choi Young was operating near the Strait of Hormuz carrying members of Seoul’s anti-piracy forces that have been stationed in the Middle East since last year.
The incident comes at a time of heightened US-Iran tensions, with frequent military provocations from the US. In the latest escalation, the Pentagon said on Thursday that two B-52 bombers flew to the Persian Gulf, the fourth time since November that long-range bombers were deployed to the Middle East to threaten Iran.