July 29 (UPI) — South Korea is looking into “various options” to protect ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, though no decision has been made on whether to contribute troops to the U.S.-led initiative, the defense ministry said Monday.
The ministry was reacting to a news report that the government has decided to dispatch a naval unit to help with U.S. efforts to protect the strategic waterway off Iran amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran.
“We are looking into various options to ensure the safety of our vessels,” Col. Roh Jae-cheon, the ministry’s deputy spokesman, told a briefing. “Some news reports have mentioned a dispatch of troops close to the current Cheonghae Unit, but nothing has been decided.”
Roh was referring to the South Korean Navy’s anti-piracy unit that has been working in waters off Somalia since 2009.
Speculation on a possible dispatch of troops and naval vessels grew after U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Seoul last week.
During his trip, Bolton was widely expected to raise the issue and call for Seoul’s contribution to the U.S. initiative to form an international coalition to safeguard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz off Iran.
The defense ministry has said the government received no official request from Bolton in his meeting with Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo last Wednesday.
The ministry has said the two sides agreed to work closely to achieve denuclearization and a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“We are keeping close tabs on the situation of the Strait of Hormuz to brace for various possibilities,” Roh said.