Iran’s impounding of oil tanker is ‘serious’ says South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister

A tanker plundering oil from the al-Bab refinery in Syria’s Aleppo province – the refinery was hit by an unidentified drone on Sunday

A SENIOR South Korean official said the situation surrounding a Korean-flagged oil tanker seized by Iran for repeated environmental violations is ‘serious,’ as he and a delegation headed to the Islamic Republic for ‘in-depth’ talks on the issue.

‘I am a little relieved to know that the crew is safe, but the situation is serious,’ First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun said in the northwestern city of Incheon before boarding a flight, to take him to Tehran via the Qatari capital Doha.
‘I hope to hold in-depth talks with key officials, whether it’s about consular issues or other major issues between Korea and Iran,’ he added.
Last week, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)’s Navy said the vessel, named MT Hankuk Chemi, had been impounded upon a request by Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation and a verdict by the Prosecutor’s Office of the southern Hormozgan Province.
Carrying 20 crew members, the ship was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz when it was intercepted by the Iranian Navy for causing water pollution and repeatedly violating maritime environmental law.
It was headed to the United Arab Emirates after loading 7,200 tons of oil and chemical products in Saudi Arabia.
Iran urged South Korea to behave ‘rationally and responsibly’ in the aftermath of the seizure after Seoul reported the matter to its National Security Office, ordered its naval destroyer ROKS Choi Young to move near the Strait of Hormuz, and said it was ready to take legal action.
‘The problem with the Korean ship is purely technical, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, like all countries, is fully sensitive to protecting and safeguarding the marine environment and deals with violations in accordance with the law,’ Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters llast week.
‘The South Korean government’s behaviour in this regard is incomprehensible and rejected.
‘We urge the Korean government to deal rationally and responsibly with this technical issue,’ Khatibzadeh stressed.
Choi is also expected to discuss Seoul’s duty to release $7 billion in oil revenues that it owes to Iran but is holding under the pretext of abiding by the illegal US sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The Islamic Republic has strictly rejected any allegations that it has impounded the tanker to enable the release of the funds.
‘If there is any hostage-taking, it is by Korea’s government that is holding $7 billion, which belongs to us, on baseless grounds,’ Ali Rabiei, spokesman for the Iranian Administration, said.
Tehran has even reportedly agreed to barter its frozen assets for Covid-19 vaccines and other commodities.

  • An unidentified drone has reportedly bombed oil refineries in northern Syria, an area which is controlled by Turkish-backed armed militants, causing explosions and fires.

The refineries, attacked on Sunday, are situated in the country outside al-Bab city in Syria’s Aleppo Province.
The London-based so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed a large blaze at the oil facilities near Tarhin village.
No group has claimed responsibility for the drone strike and its possible casualties are not known yet.
The Syrian army has been fighting a host of foreign-backed terrorist groups, which have been wreaking havoc in the country since 2011.
The Damascus government has managed to win back control of most of the regions held by these takfiri elements and Syria is now engaged in an operation to liberate Idlib Province and the few remaining parts of Aleppo.
Syrian army gains have changed conditions on the ground, enraging the foreign sponsors of the anti-Damascus militants – among them the US which is occupying some swathes of Syrian land dotted by oil fields in the north and looting grain and crops.
Dozens of US military tankers are smuggling crude oil from fields in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah over the border to neighbouring Iraq.
On Saturday, US occupation forces brought in additional military and logistical reinforcements to their illegal bases in the countryside of Syria’s eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr.
Quoting civil sources, Syria’s official SANA news agency reported that a 30-vehicle convoy, including trucks loaded with heavy weapons, cannons and tanks, headed from Hasakah Province to Dayr al-Zawr.
US occupation forces continue to steal Syrian resources and agricultural crops from the areas they have occupied in the Syrian al-Jazeera, as the occupation forces took out a convoy of vehicles loaded with stolen barley from Syrian lands to northern Iraq via the illegitimate al-Walid crossing in al-Yaroubia countryside.
Local sources told SANA reporter that the convoy includes 50 trucks and a number of refrigerated containers that left the city of al-Malikiyah to the illegitimate al-Walid crossing, heading to Iraqi lands.”
The sources pointed out that the American occupation has carried out systematic theft of grains produced from the Syrian fields, as it looted the wheat stored in al-Tawiba silo and in the warehouses of Nama Company.
Also on Saturday, US troops targeted Dayr al-Zawr’s al-Azba village with mortar shells, killing a Syrian child and injuring his mother.

  • Former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani has called on Iran and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states to engage in talks amid the resolution of the Qatar crisis and the upcoming inauguration of a new US administration.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Hamad said that he had, during the escalation of tensions between Iran and the US under President Donald Trump, emphasised that the initiation of a Tehran-GCC dialogue could have ‘important consequences’.
‘Such a dialogue can end tensions in the region and strengthen trust between the parties,’ he said.
The remarks came just days after Riyadh reached an agreement with Doha to end a three-year feud by reopening Saudi airspace and land and sea borders to Qatar.
And Kuwait’s foreign minister, speaking on television last weekend, also confirmed Riyadh had reached an agreement with Doha to end the three-year feud by reopening Saudi airspace and land and sea borders to Qatar as of yesterday (Monday 11th January 2021).
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar.
The Saudi-led quartet accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, presented it with a list of demands and gave it an ultimatum to comply with them or face the consequences.
Doha, however, denied terrorism charges and refused to meet the conditions laid out by the boycotting bloc, stressing that the country would not abandon its independent foreign policy.
The ex-Qatari premier said: ‘I believe that today, after the end of the tensions between the GCC countries and the arrival of the new administration in the White House, there is an opportunity for this dialogue, and I recommend that we take the opportunity and should not focus on the tensions between the United States and Iran, especially with the Biden administration.
‘We should not hesitate to start such a dialogue, as it will help resolve the many tensions around us,’ he noted.
‘We know that there are different views between us and Iran on many issues, but this should not prevent dialogue with Iran, because we also cooperate with countries with which we do not agree on many issues.’
In May 2018, Trump pulled the US out of the United Nations-supported nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reinstated the anti-Iran sanctions that had been lifted by the accord.
He also unleashed the so-called maximum pressure campaign, targeting the Iranian nation with the ‘toughest ever’ restrictive measures and sanctions.
However, Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has pledged to rejoin the JCPOA if Iran returns to compliance – i.e. abandons any nuclear programme.