January 20, 2023
SEOUL – South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday summoned the Iranian ambassador in Seoul, a day after Tehran called in Seoul’s chief envoy there demanding a clarification on why President Yoon Suk Yeol called Iran “the enemy” of the United Arab Emirates during his trip there this week.
In a rare tit-for-tat spat on the brink of a row, First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong told Ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari that Yoon’s comments were meant to encourage Korean troops in Abu Dhabi, with no intentions to hurt ties with Iran, spokesperson Lim Soo-suk said. Lim repeated what Seoul had already communicated to Tehran since Monday, when Yoon made the remarks.
At Monday’s gathering with the troops, Yoon said South Korea and the UAE face similar security landscapes, with each facing its biggest threat, North Korea and Iran, respectively. The two Koreas are technically at war, having never signed a peace treaty following the 1950-53 Korean War.
Summoning Korea’s ambassador in Tehran on Wednesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry protested Yoon’s “interventionist” remarks, saying Tehran maintains friendly ties with most of the Persian Gulf countries and that such “meddling” undermines peace and stability in the region, according to Iranian state media outlet IRNA.
Reza Najafi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister on legal affairs, also called out Korea for not releasing its frozen funds in Korea under US sanctions. Washington reenacted them in 2018 after it scrapped a 2015 nuclear deal on Tehran that promised sanctions relief in return for denuclearization.
A clarification on Yoon’s remarks followed by a retraction is necessary, Najafi said, adding South Korea was also in potential violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty. Yoon last week openly backed an independent nuclear buildup if North Korea poses a bigger threat than now.
Spokesperson Lim dismissed the accusation, saying “Yoon had meant bolstering extended deterrence” or US support involving its nuclear umbrella and strategic assets like bombers and fighters. That is meant to prevent outside aggression, including North Korea.
South Korea remains committed to advancing relations with Iran, Lim added.