Aussie PM dismisses report on US strike against Iran

News story suggesting Australia will help US in imminent attack is speculation: Turnbull

SYDNEY • Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed a media report that suggests Australia would use secretive defence facilities to help the United States in strikes on Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Australia's ABC reported yesterday that the US is prepared to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, perhaps as early as next month, citing senior ministers in the Turnbull government.

The report said that in addition to Australian facilities, British assets might be used.

It quoted a senior security source as saying there was a big difference between providing intelligence and analysis on Iran's facilities versus being a part of a "kinetic" mission. "Developing a picture is very different to actually participating in a strike," the source said.

"Providing intelligence and understanding as to what is happening on the ground so that the government and allied governments are fully informed to make decisions is different to active targeting."

But Mr Turnbull dismissed the report as "speculation", saying he had "no reason" to believe that an attack was imminent, and that ABC did not consult his office, nor the offices of the Defence or Foreign Affairs ministers, reported The Guardian.

"I saw a story today claiming that, on the ABC, and citing senior Australian government sources," he was quoted by The Guardian newspaper as saying. "It's speculation, it is citing anonymous sources."

President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal in May and has warned all countries to stop buying Iranian oil by Nov 4. That has sparked an angry response from Teheran, which has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world's oil passes in tankers.

A war of words between Washington and Teheran escalated dramatically this week as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the US not to "play with the lion's tail".

That provoked an all-caps tweet from Mr Trump that if Iran threatened the US again, it would suffer severe consequences.

Senior Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani hit back at Mr Trump, comparing the US President to a gambler and cabaret owner and warning that Iran would be the one to "end" any war between the two countries.

Australia is part of a multilateral agreement for intelligence sharing, alongside the US, Britain, New Zealand and Canada. The pact is also known as the Five Eyes agreement.

The Guardian reported that Australia's secretive Pine Gap joint defence facility in the Northern Territory plays a crucial role helping American spy satellites.

ABC reported that the little-known spy agency, Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, would also be expected to play a part in any potential strike.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Thursday emphasised the need for diplomatic efforts to bring Iran to heel. "Australia is urging Iran to be a force for peace and stability in the region," she told ABC's AM programme. "The relationship between the United States and Iran is a matter for them. What we are looking to do is to ensure that all parties embrace peaceful and stable principles to ensure that our region is safe."

Asked if Mr Trump's threats to Iran should be believed, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said: "Certainly President Trump has indicated that he's a person who's prepared to act in a way that previous presidents haven't."

Earlier in the week, US Defence Secretary James Mattis had said Iran was a destabilising influence throughout the Middle East.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2018, with the headline 'Aussie PM dismisses report on US strike against Iran'. Print Edition | Subscribe