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(2nd LD) Vice FM calls for Qatar's support for release of seized S. Korean ship, crew

18:01 January 14, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 8-10)

SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun called for Qatar's support for the swift release of a South Korean ship and its crew detained by Iran during his meetings with top Doha officials this week, Seoul's foreign ministry said Thursday.

Choi made the appeal when he met separately with Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, deputy prime minister and foreign minister, and Soltan bin Saad Al-Muraikhi, minister of state for foreign affairs, to discuss bilateral issues in Doha on Wednesday (local time), according to the ministry.

His trip to Qatar followed a visit to Iran, where a Korean oil tanker and its 20 crew members, including five South Koreans, have been held at a port since Jan. 4 over alleged sea pollution. Negotiations on the seized ship took place in Tehran but made little progress.

"Vice Minister Choi ... requested the maximum support possible from the Qatari side to resolve the matter concerning Iran's recent seizure of the South Korean vessel," the ministry said in a release.

Choi also discussed a range of bilateral issues with the Qatari officials, especially with regards to expanding cooperation in the energy development and shipping sectors, according to the ministry.

In his meeting with Qatari Energy Minister Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, the two sides agreed to bolster economic partnership to that end, with Choi noting that last year's deal between Korean shipbuilders and Qatar Petroleum for liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier-building space reflects the solid trust between the two countries.

In the meetings with the top foreign policy officials, Choi also hailed the recent summit declaration adopted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, including Saudi Arabia, in a move to restore ties with Qatar, according to the ministry.

Upon his arrival back in Korea, Choi said he believes there will be a "swift" step to be taken by Iran regarding the ship and its sailors.

"Though this visit to Iran has not produced the outcome of the early release (of the ship), South Korea and Iran have taken a big step toward that result," he told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul.

Choi also pointed out that during his talks with Iranian officials, he listened to their frustration related to the U.S. sanctions, while his team made a clear demand for the release of the vessel.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministry said that Iran made a proposal to use its funds frozen here under U.S. sanctions to purchase ambulances when the two countries were in talks to explore ways to expand humanitarian exchanges.

The ministry made the remarks in apparent denial of a claim by Mahmoud Vaezi, Iran's presidential chief of staff, that Tehran rejected Seoul's proposal for the Islamic Republic to use part of its frozen funds -- worth around US$7 billion -- to buy ambulances.

First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun (L) speaks with Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar's deputy prime minister and foreign minister, during a meeting in Doha on Jan. 13, 2021, in this photo provided by Seoul's foreign ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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