Seoul: Iran denied on Tuesday that it took the South Korean ship and its crew hostage on the second day of North Korea’s seizure of the tanker, that is, when it asked Seoul to release $7 billion in funds frozen under US sanctions.
The MT Korean Foreign Language CHEMI and the strategic strait near the Strait of Hormuz and the seizure of its 20 crew members have been seen as an attempt by Tehran to insist on its demands, just two weeks before President-elect Biden took office in the United States.
Iran wants Biden to lift sanctions imposed by outgoing President Donald Trump. Tehran s critics have long accused it of capturing ships and foreign prisoners as a method of gaining leverage in negotiations.
“We ve become used to such allegations,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference. “But if there is any hostage-taking, it is Korea s government that is holding $7 billion, which belongs to us, hostage on baseless grounds.”
South Korea summoned the Iranian ambassador, called for the ship to be released and said it was dispatching a delegation to Iran to discuss it. Iran says the ship was held over environmental violations.
Iran s ability to challenge shipping in the Gulf is one of its main points of leverage in what is expected to be a difficult negotiation when the Biden administration takes office on Jan. 20. In 2019, Iran held a British tanker for two months.
South Korea, like other countries, is required to limit Iran s access to its financial system under the U.S. sanctions, which were imposed by Trump after he abandoned a nuclear agreement reached with Iran under his predecessor Barack Obama.
Iran stated that the sanctions are illegal and damage its economy, including its ability to respond to the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the Middle East.
Biden aims to restore the nuclear agreement, but any thawing may bring diplomatic challenges. Since Trump abandoned the agreement, Iran has taken steps that violate the agreement. Biden said that before resuming transactions, Iran must be fully compliant, while Iran said that Washington must first lift sanctions.
On Monday, Tehran announced that it has stepped up uranium enrichment in underground facilities, the latest move to violate the terms of the nuclear agreement.