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.
According to the source, the withdrawal of the “Cheonghye” unit came prior to the arrival of the South Korean delegation headed by First Deputy Foreign Ministry 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.”
A South Korean Foreign Ministry official refused to confirm the unit’s withdrawal.
And South Korea, shortly after Iran seized its tanker, sent a destroyer from the naval unit to 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.