Seoul and Tehran seem on the verge of a diplomatic divorce as each called in the other’s local ambassador to air their grievances.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called Iran “the enemy, biggest threat” to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) while addressing South Korean troops in Abu Dhabi earlier this week. He was drawing a parallel between Iran and UEA’s situation and that of his own country and North Korea to show they were facing “very similar” circumstances.
Tehran did not appreciate Yoon’s remarks, adding fuel to rising tensions between the two countries over oil, frozen funds, and alleged arms deals.
According to reporting by Reuters, since the president’s address, the Korean foreign ministry has repeatedly attempted to explain to Tehran that Yoon’s words were only meant to encourage South Korean soldiers.
However, these explanations were found wanting.
Tehran summoned South Korean Ambassador Yun Kang-hyeon on Wednesday.
As reported by Iran’s official news agency, Reza Najafi, deputy foreign minister for legal affairs, challenged Yoon’s assessment of Iran’s relationship with UAE, telling Yun that it has “deep-rooted and friendly relations” with most of its neighbors.
Furthermore, Najafi accused Yoon of “undermining peace and stability in the region” with his “interfering” comment. He told Yun that if the problem was not resolved, bilateral relations could be at risk.
On Thursday, South Korea’s foreign ministry announced that Vice-Minister Cho Hyun-dong had called on Saeed Badamchi Shabestari, Iran’s ambassador in Seoul, to challenge remarks by Najafi during his audience with Chun. Chief among these remarks was Najafi’s insinuation that Yoon had made a nuclear weapon, which the ministry said was completely false.
Even before the latest back-and-forth bickering, relations between Iran and South Korea had been tense.
After the sanctions ordered by Washington D.C. in 2018, South Korea stopped buying crude oil from Iran. It had been one of Iran’s largest customers.
Additionally, as a result of these sanctions, Iran has about $7 billion in assets frozen in two South Korean banks. While recently discussing Seoul’s “hostile” stance toward Iran, Najafi indeed brought up the issue of frozen funds.
Finally, Iran has long been suspected of providing arms to North Korea. As previously reported by The Dallas Express, South Korea’s relationship with its northern neighbor has been growing increasingly antagonistic. Recently, five unmanned North Korean drones flew across the demilitarized zone into South Korean airspace, triggering great alarm amid a growing number of North Korean missile tests.
While Iran and South Korea had been discussing resuming the oil trade, the latest spat is a blow to this business and more.
It may spell trouble for Yoon at home as well. His political opponents have blamed him for causing a “diplomatic disaster.”