1109 GMT March 07, 2021
The retreat of the Cheonghae Unit came before the South Korean delegation, led by First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun, arrived in Tehran on Jan. 10 for talks with senior Iranian officials, Yonhap News Agency reported.
Seoul dispatched the Choi Young destroyer to the region after Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy impounded MT Hankuk Chemi on January 4 for endangering the marine ecosystem.
"To create a good atmosphere for the negotiations, the Cheonghae Unit, to which Iran has responded sensitively, was taken away (from the strait)," the source said. "It was a decision to send a friendly signal to Iran ahead of the negotiations."
A foreign ministry official in Seoul refused to confirm the unit's retreat.
"We ask for your understanding, as we cannot confirm anything about the operations of the Cheonghae Unit," he said on condition of anonymity.
On Saturday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry rejected rumors about the possible release of the South Korean-flagged tanker.
Emphasizing that any final decision on the fate of the South Korean ship will be made by Iran’s Judiciary, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, "The positions and decisions of the Judiciary [on this issue] will be solely announced by its spokesman and any statements made by people with no responsibility in this regard would be null and void.”
The spokesman added that the tanker was seized upon a Judiciary order after it caused environmental pollution in the Persian Gulf waters, adding that the legal proceedings of the case are still underway.
Therefore, he said, any development regarding the issue depends on the opinion of the respective judicial officials.
Iran has also rejected claims that the seizure of the ship is related to the issue of Tehran’s frozen funds in South Korea over US sanctions.
The Islamic Republic is already annoyed by South Korea's refusal to release more than $7 billion in Iranian assets that Seoul owes to Tehran, under the pretext of US sanctions.
According to the head of the Central Bank of Iran, South Korea has been using the assets, suggesting that Seoul's refusal to repay them is intentional because other countries have found mechanisms to clear their debts under the sanctions.