SEOUL: Iran’s foreign ministry summoned South Korea’s ambassador to protest against South Koran president Yoon Suk-yeol’s comment that the Islamic republic is the enemy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iranian state media reported.
Yoon, speaking with South Korean troops stationed in Abu Dhabi early this week, said South Korea and the UAE are under “very similar” circumstances, each facing North Korea and Iran as “the enemy, biggest threat.”
His remarks prompted a rare spat between Seoul and Tehran, at a time when relations have already been testy over frozen Iranian funds in South Korea and suspected arms dealings between Iran and North Korea.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister on legal affairs, Reza Najafi, summoned Yun Kang-hyeon, the South Korean ambassador on Wednesday to protest against Yoon’s “interventionist remarks,” the official IRNA news agency said.
Najafi “pointed to the deep-rooted and friendly relations of the Islamic Republic of Iran with most of the Persian Gulf countries,” IRNA said, describing Yoon’s comment as “interfering” and “undermining peace and stability in the region.”
Yoon’s office said his comment was meant to encourage the soldiers. Seoul’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it has offered explanations to Tehran and its commitment to developing bilateral ties remains unchanged.
Opposition lawmakers slammed the incident as a “diplomatic disaster,” and some members of Yoon’s own party also said he should have been more careful.
Najafi also accused South Korea of pursuing an “unfriendly approach” toward Iran, singling out its frozen funds.
“South Korea’s failure to take effective action to solve the mentioned problems would lead Iran to review its relations,” Najafi said, according to IRNA.
Iran has repeatedly demanded the release of some US$7 billion of its funds frozen in South Korean banks under US sanctions.
Washington re-imposed sanctions on Tehran in 2018 after then President Donald Trump pulled out from Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with six major powers, under which it agreed to curb its nuclear programmes in return for US sanctions relief.
South Korea was once one of Iran’s biggest crude buyers in Asia, and both sides have been in talks over ways to unfreeze the funds and resume oil trade, after negotiations to revive the 2015 deal kicked off last year.