Seoul, Tehran fail to narrow gap over tanker seizure

Seoul, Tehran fail to narrow gap over tanker seizure
A South Korean-flagged tanker is escorted by Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats in this Jan. 4, 2021 file photo released by Tasnim News Agency. (AP)
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Updated 12 January 2021

Seoul, Tehran fail to narrow gap over tanker seizure

Seoul, Tehran fail to narrow gap over tanker seizure
  • Iran is linking ship’s release to access to funds frozen in Korean bank accounts

SEOUL: South Korea and Iran have been unable to reach an agreement over the seizure of an oil tanker by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a week ago, according to diplomats in Seoul on Monday.

A day earlier, Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun arrived in Tehran to address the release of the South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi, which was captured by the Iranian troops near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Choi’s visit followed a trip by a delegation led by Koh Kyung-sok, director-general of the ministry’s African and Middle Eastern affairs.
Despite the back-to-back visits, however, the Iranian authorities were blunt about Seoul’s request for the release of the ship that was carrying 20 crew members, including five Koreans, while pressing Seoul to unlock $7 billion in funds frozen amid US sanctions, a Korean ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Choi held a meeting with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi upon arrival, making a strong request for the swift release of sailors and the vessel, the official said.
“Vice minister Choi renewed his call for Iran to release a seized oil tanker and its sailors,” he said. “He also urged Iran to offer evidence to back its claim that the vessel polluted the sea.”
Iran repeated, however, its claim that the ship was captured due to “technical issues” related to a breach of environmental rules and instead called for Seoul’s release of frozen funds, according to the official and Iran’s state media. “The freezing of Iran’s foreign exchange resources in Korea is more due to a lack of political will on the part of the Korean government than the US sanctions,” the Iranian vice foreign minister was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) as saying.
The Iranian diplomat said that Seoul “should refrain from politicizing the issue and from fruitless propaganda and allow the legal proceedings to proceed,” Iran’s state TV reported.

FASTFACT

Despite the back-to-back visits, however, the Iranian authorities were blunt about Seoul’s request for the release of the ship that was carrying 20 crew members, including five Koreans, while pressing Seoul to unlock $7 billion in funds frozen amid US sanctions.

In a report submitted to the National Assembly on Jan. 6, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry hinted that it was preparing to take legal action against the Islamic Republic over the seizure of the tanker.
“As long as there is no demonstration of ‘an act of deliberate and grave contamination’ that would disqualify the ship’s innocent passage, we find that no violation of international law has occurred,” the report said.
Sung Woo-rin, a lawyer at law firm DR & AJU, said Iranian troops clearly violated international law.
“A tanker normally has a dual hull structure so that there is little chance of oil leakage, except for special cases such as a collision between ships,” the lawyer said. “Should delivery be delayed due to the seizure of a ship, the ship’s owner would be able to claim damages.”
Since a legal dispute could result in the protracted capture of the vessel, she said, diplomacy was the best way for the two governments to resolve the issue.
The seizure of the Hankuk Chemi followed Iran’s complaint last month about the difficulty of transferring money from Seoul to purchase coronavirus vaccines.
Iranian assets worth $7 billion in two Korean bank accounts were frozen after the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal with Teheran in 2018.
In an effort to end the impasse, Seoul and Teheran discussed using the frozen money to purchase $1 billion of medical equipment, while Iran also requested the use of $10 million or more from the unlocked assets to buy vaccines from the global vaccine procurement facility COVAX.

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
A military vehicle is stationed on the tarmac of Yemen’s Aden airport. Yemen says the Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace to the country. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2021

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
  • International community urged not to surrender to ‘blackmailing and intimidation’ 
  • Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace, Yemen PM said

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s prime minister has vowed to address any impact on humanitarian assistance or the remittances of citizens abroad following the US move to designate the Iran-backed Houthis as a terrorist organization.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed also urged the international community not to surrender to “Houthi blackmailing” and intimidation.
Saeed defended his government’s strong support of the designation during a virtual interview with foreign journalists sponsored by the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.
He said that his government had formed a committee to handle any effects on the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Houthi-controlled areas and the remittances of Yemenis abroad.
“We are determined to prevent any impact of the decision on the Yemenis. We have formed a committee to mitigate effects of the decision,” he said.
When the US announced its intention to designate the Houthi movement as a terrorist organization last week, Yemen’s government quickly urged the US administration to put the decision in place, predicting it would stop Houthi crimes and their looting of humanitarian assistance, and would smoothe the way for peace.
Referring to the impact of the US designation on peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, Saeed said that the decision would not undermine peace efforts. He said that the Houthis would be accepted as part of the Yemeni political and social spectrum when they abandoned hard-line ideologies and embraced equality and justice.

The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, Yemen’s prime minister

“This is an important pressure card on them and a real definition of them,” he said, adding that the Yemenis would not allow the Houthi movement to rule them.
“Yemen would not be ruled by a racist and terrorist group,” he said.
Formed under the Riyadh Agreement, Yemen’s new government’s ministers narrowly escaped death on Dec. 30 when three precision-guided missiles ripped through Aden airport shortly after their plane touched down.
The government accused the Houthis of staging the attack, saying that missile fragments collected from the airport showed that they were similar to missiles that targeted Marib city in the past.
The prime minister said that the Yemeni government had offered many concessions to reach an agreement to end the war. It had agreed to engage in direct talks with the Houthis in Stockholm in 2018 despite the fact that the Yemeni government forces were about to seize control of the Red Sea city of Hodeidah. However, the Stockholm Agreement had failed to bring peace to Yemen, he said.
“The government forces were about to capture the city within five days maximum. The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed,” Saeed said.
In Riyadh, Yemen’s president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Friday appointed Ahmed Obeid bin Daghar, a former prime minister and a senior adviser to the president, as president of the Shoura Council.
Hadi also appointed Ahmed Ahmed Al-Mousai as the country’s new attorney general.
Fighting continues
Heavy fighting between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis broke out on Sunday for the third consecutive day in contested areas in the districts of Hays and Durihimi in the western province of Hodeidah. Official media said that dozens of Houthi rebels and several government troops were killed in the fighting and loyalists pushed back three assaults by Houthis in Durihimi district.
In neighboring Hays, the Joint Forces media said on Sunday that the Houthis hit government forces with heavy weapons before launching a ground attack in an attempt to seize control of new areas in the district.
The Houthis failed to make any gains and lost dozens of fighters along with several military vehicles that were burnt in the fighting, the same media outlets said. Heavy artillery shelling and land mines planted by the Houthis have killed more than 500 civilians since late 2018, local rights groups said.