BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:20 A.M.) – According to a diplomatic source, South Korea has moved its anti-piracy naval unit away from the Strait of Hormuz, in order to “enhance the positive atmosphere” ahead of negotiations with Iran over the detained Korean oil tanker,” the Yonhap News Agency reported.
The Yonhap source said the withdrawal of the unit came prior to the arrival of the South Korean delegation headed by First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choi Jong-gun to Tehran on January 10, to hold talks with senior Iranian officials about the tanker and other issues.
The source said, “In order to create a favorable atmosphere for the negotiations, the Zhonghe unit, which Iran views sensitively, was removed from the Strait,” adding, “The decision was aimed at sending a friendly signal to Iran before the negotiations.”
An official from the South Korean Foreign Ministry refused to confirm the withdrawal of the unit.
South Korea, shortly after Iran seized its tanker, sent a destroyer from the naval unit to the waters near the Strait of Hormuz. Reports said Iranian Ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari had expressed to Seoul his dissatisfaction with the move.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards detained the MT Hancock Kimi ship, claiming environmental pollution, on January 4. Last week’s talks over the release of the ship ended without much progress, at a time when Tehran says the vessel’s seizure is a purely “technical matter”, subject to its legal and judicial procedures, while Seoul is seeking a diplomatic solution.