TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran said Monday South Korea should avoid politicizing its decision to impound a vessel for pollution in the Persian Gulf.
South Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choi Jong-kun, arrived in Tehran on Sunday to discuss the release of the South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi, which was impounded by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) near the strategic Strait of Hormuz a week ago.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday the vessel was seized for polluting the marine ecosystem in the Persian Gulf with prior warning.
Foreign reports have tried to accuse the Islamic Republic of holding the ship to force Seoul to release $7 billion in oil revenues that it owes Tehran.
"Those who are after politicizing the issue are down a wrong course,” Khatibzadeh said. "We are duty-bound to protect the marine ecosystem.”
"Attempts at politicizing the issue will not contribute to its technical resolution,” the official said, stating that parties affected by Iran’s move are free to follow the case through legal channels.
Iran has also denied allegations that the interception of the tanker and its 20-member crew amounted to hostage taking, and said it was Seoul that was holding Iran’s funds "hostage”.
Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi also told South Korea’s Choi that Seoul "should refrain from politicizing the issue and fruitless propaganda and allow the legal proceedings to proceed”.
"For about two and a half years, South Korean banks have frozen Iran’s funds ... it is not acceptable ... In our view, this is more because of Seoul’s lack of political will (to resolve the issue) than the U.S. sanctions,” Araqchi said.
The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers.