S. Korea now more reluctant to join U.S.-led mission to Strait of Hormuz
Updated: 2020-01-10 17:09:15 KST
The South Korean government appears to have become more cautious about possibly sending military forces to support a multilateral mission in the Strait of Hormuz, a key route for oil, which Iran has been threatening to close.
A senior-level foreign ministry official told reporters at a gathering held Thursday that the government considers its utmost priority in this decision to be the safety of Korean nationals, especially those living in the Middle East.
The official said some 16-hundred Korean nationals are currently in Iraq, and of the 290 Koreans living in Iran 240 of them are in Tehran.
Seoul's foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha, when asked in a parliamentary meeting about sending troops, said Seoul cannot always be on the same page as Washington.
"Our stance cannot always be aligned with Washington's when considering political analysis of the Middle Eastern region and bilateral relations with the countries concerned. South Korea has a long-term economic relationship with Iran."
Seoul and Washington are expected to discuss the issue in further detail next Tuesday when Kang meets with her U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo in San Francisco.
A South Korean military source confirmed previously that in response to Washington's request, the government had considered sending to the Strait its anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit, currently operating in the Gulf of Aden.
But the U.S. drone strike last week that killed a powerful Iranian general derailed that option, stoking public fears that sending troops on a U.S.-led mission would create friction with Iran or drag the country into a conflict in the Middle East.
The 31st contingent of South Korea's Cheonghae Unit, comprising a four,400-ton destroyer and a Lynx helicopter as well as some 300 military personnel are on a six-month mission through July.
South Korea's oil tankers ship 70 percent of the country's imported crude through the Strait of Hormuz from oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
And according to industry analysts at MarineTraffic, some 20 percent of the global oil supply flows through the Strait, destined for places as far away as China and Japan.
Kim Ji-yeon, Arirang News.