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Iran gets bitter about destroyer going to strait

Jan 23,2020
The U.S. government welcomed Korea’s decision to deploy an antipiracy unit to defend shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, saying it testified to the strength of the two countries’ alliance.

According to the Voice of America, Pentagon spokesman David Eastburn welcomed Seoul taking a major step to help “ensure freedom of navigation in the Middle East by supporting the IMSC,” referring to the U.S.-led maritime coalition built to ward off Iranian threats to the strategic strait, known as the International Maritime Security Conduct.

The U.S. State Department also said in statements to reporters Tuesday that it appreciated Korea’s deployment of its Cheonghae Unit to the strait, saying it demonstrated the allies’ “commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”

After months of contemplation, Seoul announced Tuesday it will expand the operational range of the 300-strong Cheonghae Unit, which currently conducts antipiracy operations in the waters around Somalia, to cover an additional 1,700 kilometers (1,056 miles) including the Strait of Hormuz.

Seoul, however, was keen to emphasize the deployment of its troops would be an independent operation separate from the activities of the IMSC - a move that was interpreted as an attempt to minimize antagonism of Iran, from which Korea used to import around 13 percent of its crude oil before U.S. sanctions kicked in.

The Strait of Hormuz is a 167-kilometer-long body of water between Iran and the United Arab Emirates and Oman, measuring only 39 kilometers wide at its narrowest point. Approximately 20 percent of all global oil production and over 30 percent of liquefied natural gas are shipped through the channel, making it a strategic choke point which Tehran has threatened to close off amid its escalating tensions with the United States.

A spokesman for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abbas Mousavi, said the Korean government had informed Tehran of its intention to redeploy some of its fleet in the Gulf of Aden to near Iranian waters, which he called an “unacceptable” decision on Monday.

Mousavi added that a deployment of Korean troops to the region would be in line with the United States’ “adventurism policy” in the Middle East that would go against the “age-old and friendly” ties between Seoul and Tehran.

On Tuesday, the spokesman doubled down on his criticism of Korea, protesting on his Twitter account about what he said was a wrongful labeling by the Korean Defense Ministry of the body of water between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran.

“On what basis of knowledge and justification is South Korea seeking to deploy military forces to this region when its Defense Ministry doesn’t even know the historic name of ‘Persian Gulf’?” Mousavi wrote in both Korean and Persian. “Mutual respect for facts is the basis of ties between civilized countries.”

While recognized as the Persian Gulf by most international organizations, many Arab governments in the area refer to these waters as the Arabian Gulf. When announcing the deployment decision on Tuesday, Korea’s Deputy Defense Minister Chung Suk-hwan referred to the sea with a combination of both names - Arabian Persian Gulf - which appears to have invited ire from Iran.

A top Korean Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday said while Tehran expressed “concern” at the deployment decision, both countries would work toward improving bilateral relations.

The United States in April 2019 ended waivers for Iranian oil imports by several countries including Korea and followed up in September by toughening sanctions on Iran by requiring other countries to submit information to Washington about their trade with Iran. This move effectively ended Seoul’s exports of food and medical supplies to Iran, leading Tehran to lodge a request to Korea asking for humanitarian trade to resume.

Seoul is continuing to hold consultations with the United States to allow exports of humanitarian goods using a won-based transaction system.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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