US ambassador to South Korea said Tuesday that he hopes Seoul sends forces to the Strait of Hormuz, where tensions have escalated since the US killing of a top Iranian commander last week.
“I would hope that Korea will send forces out there,” Amb. Harry Harris said in an interview with broadcaster KBS, adding that South Korea gets so much of its energy from the Middle East.
More than 70 percent of South Korea’s crude oil imports are shipped through the Strait of Hormuz.
Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed Friday in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump.
Since July, the US has requested that South Korea send troops to take part in a US-led multinational coalition against Iran’s military activities. Tensions have increased since 2018, when Washington backed out of a 2015 nuclear deal and imposed new economic sanctions.
Seoul has considered various options, including expanding the operational region of the Cheonghae anti-piracy unit, which is currently operating in the Gulf of Aden, to include the Strait of Hormuz and having the unit join the coalition, known as the International Maritime Security Construct.
Earlier on Tuesday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it had not yet made a decision on whether to send troops to help safeguard the strategically vital waterway.
Seoul is in a dilemma as it wishes to avoid damaging its long-standing trade relations with Iran.
As for the defense cost-sharing negotiations between South Korea and the US, Harris said the two sides have neared the final stage.
“We have compromised our position, so we will see what the outcome is next week,” he said, referring to the next round of meetings between the two countries in Washington.
Washington’s top negotiator, James DeHart, is “optimistic,” Harris said.
Regarding North Korea, Harris said he wants to see “progress toward denuclearization in lockstep with success or progress in inter-Korean relations.”
The ambassador said issues such as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to South Korea should be decided “in consultations with” the US.
Harris said the “door remains open for negotiations” with North Korea, but also warned that the US is “ready to fight tonight if need be,” in response to a question on what the US planned to do if the North launched an intercontinental ballistic missile.
About the possibility of the US deploying medium-range missiles in Asia, Harris said it was too early to talk about it as the US just pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia in August and was still figuring out what kind of weapons to develop.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com