DUBAI / PARIS (Reuters) – The US is seeking to win the support of its allies for an initiative to strengthen the monitoring of vital oil shipping routes in the Middle East, fearing that tensions with Iran will intensify, six sources said are familiar with the matter said.
Washington proposed on 9 July that efforts to protect strategic waters off Iran and Yemen be stepped up, blaming Iran and its deputies for tanker attacks. Iran denies the indictment.
With Washington's allies reluctant to use new weapons or armed forces, a senior Pentagon official told Reuters on Thursday that the United States did not want to form a military coalition, but lit a flashlight in the area to deter attacks the merchant shipping.
Fear of confrontation is likely to limit involvement of Washington's allies to existing naval personnel and equipment ̵
"The Americans want to form an 'alliance of the willing' to face future attacks," said a Western diplomat. "Nobody wants to be on this confrontation and part of a US push against Iran."
(Graph: Tensions Rising at Strategic Oil-chokepoint – tmsnrt.rs/2FESiH4)
Kathryn Wheelbarger addresses such concerns or possible misunderstandings One of Pentagon's highest-ranking politicians told Reuters in an interview that it was at the new Initiative "not for military confrontation" go.
According to Washington's proposal, the United States would coordinate ships and direct surveillance efforts, while allies would patrol near waters and escort merchant ships with their nation's flags.
Iran has said that foreign powers should leave the 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 considers the US plan counterproductive to ease tensions, as Tehran would consider it anti-Iranian, a French official said.
The British security source said it was not possible to escort each merchant ship, a view shared by several other countries.
A senior Western official based in Beijing said there was "no way" for China to join a coalition. A South Korean official said Washington has not yet made an official application.
A decision by Japan to join such an initiative would likely trigger a disagreement in Japan over the deployment of troops abroad. Japan's military has not fought abroad since World War II.
"The Americans have talked to anyone interested in setting something up, and they have been mainly concerned with Asia, as this is vital for their (oil) security of supply, and they have been asking about ships, but it got a bit quiet, "said a golf official said.
India has been deploying two ships in the Gulf since June 20 to protect ships under the Indian flag. It is unlikely that other Asian oil importers are only symbolically present, such as the involvement of a liaison official, civil servants and diplomats.
"It's just impossible, the road is already too full," said an Asian official about an escort system in the Strait of Hormuz, which is 33km wide at its narrowest point.
A second golf official said, "We will not do that, we will not do anything by ourselves."
Tensions increased on Thursday after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards said they had a foreigner Tanker confiscated smuggling fuel A US military commander in the area said the United States would "aggressively" work to free up the ve to ensure the return of ships in and around the Strait of Hormuz.
Tensions have increased since US President Donald Trump announced a 2015 nuclear pact last year, in which Iran agreed to cut its nuclear program in exchange for exempting economic sanctions that paralyzed its economy.
France, Britain and Germany, parties to the agreement with Russia and China, have tried to save the agreement and defuse tensions.
If the US and its Sunni Muslim allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates failed to secure support for the Maritime Initiative, they would compromise their efforts to isolate Shiite Muslim Iran and Iran-sponsored Middle Eastern forces.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are already patrolling the coast off Yemen, where they are leading a coalition fighting against the Iranian-oriented Houthi movement, although the United Arab Emirates have indicated they are reducing their presence there.
Asked what role Riyadh could play in the US initiative, a Saudi military official said it was the role played by the Saudi-led Yemeni coalition in the Red Sea in recent years. including accompaniment and security of merchant shipping.
The United States does not want to do it alone.
"The region now has enough resources for each job. The Americans want an international stamp on this effort, "said one of the Gulf Sources. "You (the United States) also do not want to bear the financial burden."
Technical and financial issues such as refueling, bunkering and maintenance costs still need to be ironed out before countries sign up, the source said.
The United States, with its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain for decades protecting the shipping lanes in the region, would be largely strained by the police. It also heads the Combined Maritime Forces, a 33-nation naval alliance that conducts security and counter-piracy operations in the region.
Britain has a base in Oman and China has a military base in Djibouti, which is on Bab al-Mandab Street. Beijing had to be quiet in the region because of its close energy relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi support US sanctions against Iran, which lacks a strong conventional fleet, but has many speedboats, portable missile defense missiles and mines.
A US State Department official who refused to be named, said that Bahrain will hold a working group meeting on maritime and aviation security in the fall, as part of the follow-up to a global conference in Warsaw in February, with some in attendance Participations 60 nations discuss stability in the Middle East.
The Gulf States, who are major buyers of Western weapons, have invested more in air and land capabilities than in seafaring and little experience in coordinating large sea emissions.
Most of the ships are small patrol boats and corvettes that would be difficult to operate on longer missions, said Tom Waldwyn, a research fellow for The Military Balance at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Wheelbarger, the US Pentagon official, suggested that small, fast ships be helpful. She said that several countries had expressed interest in the initiative but had not named it.
Additional coverage by Phil Stewart and Lesley Wroughton of Washington, Guy Faulconbridge and Jonathan Saul of London, Ben Blanchard and Cate Cadell of Beijing, Hyonhee Shin of Seoul, Alexander Cornwell and Ghaida Ghantous of Dubai and Stephen Kalin of Riyadh; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Timothy Heritage