Australia still undecided on joining US efforts in Iran gulf

Australia Defence Minister Linda Reynolds speaking to the media in Sydney on Aug 4, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - US efforts to build a global coalition to protect ships passing through the Persian Gulf continue to bear little fruit, with key ally Australia still undecided about whether to join.

Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, after meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper in Sydney on Sunday (Aug 4), 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".

"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," Ms Reynolds said. "But again, no decision has yet been made."

Ms 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 defence policies for 34 years.

Mr 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 by Iran" that would lead to conflict.

He said the US has had "a good response" from some allies and partners but "we continue to develop that idea".

US partners including Britain 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.

Mr Esper said on 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 behaviour".

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