In June 2019, Iran shot down a U.S. military drone for violating Iran’s airspace. At that time, National Security Adviser John Bolton urged President Donald Trump to retaliate by approving an operation to remove Solaymani, a commander of the Kuds Army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, with Secretary of State, Mike Pompeii, also supporting this idea. However, Trump had previously given conditional approval to retaliate only if American people were killed.
Then, on December 27th, 2019, an American was killed in an Iranian rocket attack at a U.S. military base in Kirkuk, Iraq. After this accident, Solaymani, was killed in a retaliatory airstrike by a U.S. drone at Baghdad Airport on January 3rd, 2020.
Since then, Iran has responded by attacking a U.S. military base with missiles twice. On January 8th, Iran hit the Ukrainian airplane ‘Boeing 737-800’ with missiles, mistaking it for a hostile target. Several Western countries quickly claimed that Iran had attacked, but initially Iran denied this. However, three days later, on January 11th, Iran apologized publicly for the first time, admitting that it had made a mistake and shot down an enemy plane.
Against this backdrop, on January 21st, the South Korean government decided to send its own troops to the Strait of Hormuz in order to maintain the safety of any Koreans located within the potentially dangerous region. However, Iran and the U.S. had different opinions on the troop dispatch.
A U.S. State Department official welcomed the dispatch of the Cheong-hae military to the Strait of Hormuz, saying, “The U.S. appreciates Korea’s decision to expand the mission of the Cheong-hae unit to the Strait of Hormuz”. He added that the Korea-U.S. commitment to cooperate showed the strength of the alliance in the face of growing international security concerns.
In Iran, however, despite South Korea’s dispatch of troops being unrelated to the United States and primarily aimed at protecting its citizens, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Seyed Abbas Mousavi, said, “Iran basically opposes foreign troops coming to the Strait of Hormuz”.
In addition, he took issue with the South Korean Defense Ministry’s description of the deployment site of the Cheong-hae unit, having referred to it as ‘Arabia Bay’ instead of the word ‘Persian Bay’.
The name of the Gulf Coast between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula is internationally accepted as the ‘Persian Gulf’. However, countries which are hostile to Iran such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States call it the ‘Arabian Gulf’. Therefore, Iran is very sensitive about calling the Persian Gulf the Arabian Gulf.
For these reasons, relations between Korea and Iran are expected to cool for the time being amid the current crisis between the United States and Iran. There is no direct damage to Korea right now, but a hot war would cause direct and indirect damage not only to Korea but also all around the world. Therefore, the U.S. and Iran should negotiate calmly through dialogue at the table.