Tehran says it does not find a need in mediating with Seoul, as the dispute is a “technical” one.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that his country is not going to accept political mediation in resolving the case of the South Korean oil tanker as it is a “technical issue”, the Iranian Students’ News Agency [ISNA] reported on Sunday.
“As we said before, the oil tanker was seized due to the pollution of the marine environment in the Persian Gulf and this is an issue which is important for all countries and all countries are sensitive about it,” he said, adding that Iran does not accept political mediation in “technical issues”.
Khatibzadeh’s statement comes after Seoul requested from Doha, to mediate between the two countries to help release the South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi and its crew members, captured by Iran earlier this month.
According to reports, the vessel was seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz over alleged “oil pollution” in the Persian Gulf as it was carrying 7,200 tons of “chemical products”.
“During the recent visit by a Korean delegation to Tehran, we asked them why they want to resolve the issue of [the] seizure of the Korean tanker, which is a technical issue, politically?” Khatibzadeh told ISNA.
The Iranian official also rejected allegations that his country was leveraging the seized vessel to pressure South Korea to release frozen Iranian funds.
However, analysts see the incident as a tool being used by Iran to ensure that South Korea releases the assets, which are worth at least $7 billion. The money was frozen in South Korean banks after US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the Iran nuclear deal.
“This is less about the Korean ship than about Korea’s refusal to return to Iran close to $10 billion in Iranian assets that have been confiscated by Korean banks because of what they claim to be US-imposed sanctions,” Mehran Kamrava, Professor of Government at Georgetown University Qatar and the author several books on Iran and Gulf security, told Doha News.
“The Iranian government considers this financial piracy. Unless the Qatari government, or someone else, can pressure the Koreans to return Iran’s confiscated assets, the Iranians see no point in negotiating over the ship,” Kamrava said.
Other commentators see it as Iran buying time while Joe Biden’s Administration settles into the White House and focusses on domestic issues instead.
“Iran wants to benefit from that and put more pressure on South Korea to divide its position when it comes to the sanctions, which were imposed by the Trump Administration. So in that context, Iranians say it is not a political issue, but at the end of the day when you talk about assets it becomes political,” Dr. Mahjoob Zweiri, Director of Gulf Studies at Qatar University told Doha News.
Despite its rejection of Qatar’s mediation efforts with South Korea, Iran has responded positively to Doha’s invitation to hold a regional dialogue in order to ensure stability and achieve peace between Tehran and its rival Riyadh and other GCC member states.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani’s call for talks to de-escalate tensions between major players in the region, saying the solution to these challenges “lies in collaboration to jointly form a strong region”.