South Korea is sending a delegation to Iran after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps seized a South Korean-flagged tanker in Gulf waters and detained its crew of 20 on Monday.
South Korea’s foreign ministry called in the Iranian ambassador to Seoul for a meeting and urged the early release of the tanker, which 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.
“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”, South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam said on Tuesday.
Tensions between Tehran and Seoul have been rising over $7 billion in Iranian funds frozen in South Korean banks due to US sanctions.
Iranian ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari said that the ship’s crew is “safe”. An Iranian government spokesman on Tuesday rejected allegations that Iran’s seizure of the South Korean vessel amounted to hostage-taking and said it was South Korea that was holding $7 billion of Iran’s funds “hostage”.
On Monday, Tehran also said it had resumed 20% uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear facility – a breach of a landmark nuclear deal Iran had signed with world powers in 2015.