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Home » Security » Allies play hard to get on U.S. proposal to protect oil shipping lanes

Allies play hard to get on U.S. proposal to protect oil shipping lanes

PortandTerminal.com, July 19, 2019

DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) – The United States is struggling to win its allies’ support for an initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes because of fears it will increase tension with Iran, six sources familiar with the matter said.

“The Americans have been talking to anyone interested about setting something up, mainly looking to Asia as it’s of vital importance to their security of (oil) supply and asking for ships, but it’s gone a bit quiet,”

Washington proposed an alliance on July 9, stepping up efforts to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen where it blames Iran and its proxies for tanker attacks. Iran denies the charges.

The Straits of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb are strategic choke-points for the flow of oil in the region IMAGE: PortandTerminal.com

But with Washington’s allies reluctant to commit new weaponry or fighting forces, a senior Pentagon official told Reuters on Thursday that the United States’ aim was not to set up a military coalition but to shine a “flashlight” in the region to deter attacks on commercial shipping.

“Nobody wants to be on that confrontational course and part of a U.S. push against Iran.”

Because of fears of confrontation, any involvement by Washington’s allies is likely to be limited to naval personnel and equipment already in place – near the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf and the Bab al-Mandab Strait in the Red Sea, two Gulf sources and a British security source said.
“The Americans want to create an ‘alliance of the willing’ who confront future attacks,” a Western diplomat said. “Nobody wants to be on that confrontational course and part of a U.S. push against Iran.”

Kathryn Wheelbarger, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs

Addressing such concerns or possible misunderstandings, Kathryn Wheelbarger, one of the most senior policy officials at the Pentagon, told Reuters in an interview that the new initiative was “not about military confrontation.”


Under Washington’s proposal, the United States would provide coordinating ships and lead surveillance efforts while allies would patrol nearby waters and escort commercial vessels with their nation’s flags.
Iran has said foreign powers should leave securing shipping lanes to Tehran and other countries in the region.

France, which has a naval base in the United Arab Emirates, does not plan to escort ships and views the U.S. plan as counterproductive to easing tensions because Tehran would see it as anti-Iran, a French official said.
The British security source said it was not viable to escort every commercial vessel, a view shared by several other countries.

A senior Western official based in Beijing said there was “no way” China would join a maritime coalition. A South Korean official said Washington had yet to make any official request.

A decision by Japan to join such an initiative would be likely to inflame a divide in Japanese public opinion over sending troops abroad. Japan’s military has not fought overseas since World War Two.


“The Americans have been talking to anyone interested about setting something up, mainly looking to Asia as it’s of vital importance to their security of (oil) supply and asking for ships, but it’s gone a bit quiet,” a Gulf official said.

India has deployed two ships in the Gulf to protect Indian-flagged vessels since June 20. Other Asian oil importers are unlikely to have anything but a symbolic presence, such as the involvement of a liaison officer, officials and diplomats said.


“It’s just impossible. The Strait is already too crowded,” an Asian official said of an escort system in the Strait of Hormuz which is 21 miles (33 km) wide at its narrowest point.


A second Gulf official said: “We’re not going to do anything like that, we are not going to do anything on our own.”

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