Thu, 18 Jul 2019

The Pentagon says it is moving closer to establishing military escorts for ships in the Persian Gulf, hours after Britain said armed Iranian boats 'attempted to impede' a British oil tanker.

General Mark Milley, who has been nominated to become chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, on July 11 said Washington was working to put together a coalition 'in terms of providing military escort, naval escort to commercial shipping.'

'I think that that will be developing over the next couple weeks,' Milley said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He called freedom of navigation a fundamental principle.

Washington blames Iran or Iranian-linked proxies for a series of attacks on shipping in the world's most important oil-transit route in the past two months. Tehran has denied the accusations.

Britain early on July 11 said three Iranian boats "attempted to impede" the British Heritage oil tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, in a move that followed threats by Tehran that London would face consequences for the seizure of an Iranian supertanker last week.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on July 9 told reporters that the United States was attempting to form a military coalition to safeguard strategic shipping lanes off Iran and Yemen amid raised tensions with Iran.

Under the plan, the Pentagon would provide command and surveillance assets for the coalition.

Allied states joining the coalition would patrol waters near the U.S. command ships and escort commercial vessels with their country's flags through the heavily traveled waters between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

The United States, Britain, and France maintain a constant naval presence in the Persian Gulf. London and Paris have not confirmed that talks were being held on a tanker-escort operation.

But Britain and France have sought to tamp down tensions in the region between Washington and Tehran.

Both countries, along with Germany, Russia, and China, have said they will remain part of the 2015 nuclear deal that provided Iran with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Trump in May 2018 withdrew from the pact and began reimposing crippling sanctions on Iran, saying Iran must return to the negotiating table and renounce nuclear weapons.

London is considering the deployment of additional Royal Navy ships to the region after the latest incident, British media are reporting.

A French government official told AFP that Paris was not currently planning to expand its presence in the gulf.

'France is on a course of de-escalation,' the official said. 'Sending additional military assets to the region does not seem useful to us.'

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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