Senior US leaders expressed confidence that they would be able to convince allies to help protect shipping in the Persian Gulf area, but they provided no new details Sunday on which nations may be willing to participate.
Australia Defense Minister Linda Reynolds, after meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper in Sydney, said Australia was “deeply concerned” about heightened tensions in the region, and the request made by the US was “a very serious one, and it is a complex one,” Bloomberg reported.
“That’s why we are currently giving this request very serious consideration, but we will ultimately – as we always do – decide what is in our own sovereign interests,” Reynolds said. “But again, no decision has yet been made.”
Reynolds spoke with counterparts after the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, which have served as the principal forum for the allies’ joint strategic, foreign and defense policies for 34 years.
Esper told reporters during the press conference that the purpose of the operation in the Persian Gulf would be to promote freedom of navigation, as well as preventing any provocative actions that would lead to conflict. Esper said the US has had “a good response” from some allies and partners but “we continue to develop that idea.”
US partners including the UK and France last month expressed a desire to establish a European maritime security initiative almost identical to – but separate from – the American project. The split reflects just how uneasy key allies have become about the US “maximum pressure” campaign toward Iran.
Esper said Sunday that regardless of whether an operation is led by the US or Europe, both would have “a unity of effort,” ensuring “freedom of navigation and deterring provocative behavior.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on Japan, Britain, France, Germany, South Korea, Australia and other nations to join a maritime force to guard oil tankers sailing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Washington was not able to convince its Asian ally to join an international maritime force to guard ships in the world’s most important oil passageway with Japan ruling out joining a US-led maritime force. South Korea, however, has agreed to send a destroyer as part of a naval fleet to the strategic waterway.
The unified European approach to resolving tensions in the Persian Gulf also showed signs of strain.
Germany ruled out joining on Thursday, citing a desire to keep discussions diplomatic and avoid further escalation in the Persian Gulf, blaming the United States for the escalation by withdrawing from the nuclear deal.
Spain has also ruled itself out as a possible partner. Belgium and Norway are hesitating.