Iran denies using Korea tanker crew as hostages
Iran denied on Tuesday it was using a South Korean ship and its crew as hostages, a day after it seized the tanker in the Gulf while pressing a demand for Seoul to release $7 billion in funds frozen under US sanctions.
The seizure of the MT Hankuk Chemi and its 20-member crew near the strategic Strait of Hormuz has been seen as an attempt by Tehran to assert its demands, just two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in the US.
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 January 20. South Korea, like other countries, is required to limit Iran’s access to its financial system under the US sanctions, which were imposed by Trump.