Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Washington attempts coalition building on Iran

Washington attempts coalition building on Iran

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A US Navy patrol boat cruises waters off the Gulf emirate of Fujairah in June 2019. AFP

Washington attempts coalition building on Iran

In seeking a coalition at sea to monitor Iran, the US is hoping to present a united front at a time when its hawkish policy has aggravated tensions and key allies are at loggerheads.

General Joseph Dunford, the top US military officer, said the US would take the commanding role and provide surveillance as other countries escort vessels under their own flags.

“I think probably over the next couple weeks we’ll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we’ll work directly with the militaries to identify the specific capabilities that’ll support that,” Dunford said on Tuesday.

He said the coalition would operate both in the Strait of Hormuz – the chokepoint to the Gulf through which 20 per cent of the world’s oil flows – and the Bab el-Mandeb, the crucial shipping line into the Red Sea off war-battered Yemen.

The budding coalition comes as tensions soar with Iran, which shot down a US spy drone and has been blamed by Washington for a series of sabotage attacks on oil tankers.

Many observers see Iran as trying to extract a price on President Donald Trump’s administration, which imposed crippling sanctions and has tried to stop all of Tehran’s oil sales in hopes of weakening the clerical regime.

Trump, who exited a nuclear accord with Iran negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, on Wednesday vowed to keep ramping up sanctions – but he also has indicated he does not want war, calling off a planned strike last month.

In a familiar priority for Trump, he has accused other nations of not paying enough for their own ships’ security – a point stressed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he visited allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE last month.

Fostering Gulf unity?

Dunford’s remarks came on the day that the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, met Trump at the White House.

Qatar, which is home to some 10,000 US troops but has comparatively cordial relations with Iran, has been under a Saudi-led embargo for two years.

Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said that the coalition initiative could serve to “end the intra-GCC conflict through the backdoor,” although he said that would be a longer-term calculation.

“There are good reasons why the US wants others to do a lot more to protect the flow of energy and trade from the Persian Gulf,” he said.

“Is it going to change the big-picture dynamics in the sense of the US-Iran standoff? That’s where I’m more skeptical,” he said.

He said Iran was trying to impose counter-pressure against the US and “create a bit of panic in the head of President Trump” by destabilising the oil market.

“I’m not sure that this is going to in itself deter the Iranians from being in the path they are in.”

European scepticism

Mark Esper, the acting defence secretary, said on a recent visit to Nato’s headquarters that “a few” allies had privately expressed interest in the coalition.

But European leaders have been widely sceptical of Trump’s policy on Iran and still support the 2015 nuclear deal.

In a potential omen for Washington, Spain in May recalled a frigate accompanying a US aircraft carrier heading to the Middle East, saying it wanted to steer clear of any potential “warlike action”.

It is not the first time the US has worked to escort oil in the Gulf. During the Iran-Iraq War, Washington protected Kuwaiti ships that were given the US flag.

The USS Vincennes, deployed for the operation, in 1988 shot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing 290 people in an incident for which Washington has never apologised.

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom’s domestic milk still cannot compete with imports

    Price competition and a lack of confidence by consumers are the main reasons the dairy market cannot compete with imports, said domestic milk producers. The large displays of imported fresh milk at the Kingdom’s supermarkets present a cumbersome obstacle for local producers, they said.

  • ‘Pesticide-laden cucumbers’ kill two, poison 150 in Banteay Meanchey

    At least two youths have died and 243 others are being treated for vomiting, diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, dizziness and muscle weakness after they ate cucumbers suspected to consist of pesticides. The incident happened on Saturday, said Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Ath Khem. He told The

  • Three dead, 13 injured in collapse at Siem Reap pagoda

    At least three people were killed and more than 10 others injured on Monday after a dining hall under construction collapsed at Prasat Kokchak pagoda in Kokchak commune, Siem Reap province. Provincial police chief Tith Narong said Military Police, soldiers and local volunteers had successfully recovered 16

  • Forest Harmony’s $18M luxury villas break ground in Kampot

    Local and French joint-venture Forest Harmony has broken ground on its $18 million “second-home” Luxury Holiday Villas project in Kampot province. Century 21 Mekong CEO and local shareholder of the project Chrek Soknim told The Post that the project will comprise 90 villa units covering 18ha on a 97

  • China Unicom enters Cambodia

    China Unicom, the country’s largest telecoms operator, has expanded into Cambodia to build optical telecommunication pathways in the Kingdom as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Hong Kong-listed company officially opened its China Unicom (Cambodia) subsidiary on Monday to become the

  • PP-SHV Expressway on track for completion in early 2023

    The construction of the $1.9 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, which broke ground at the end of March, is on track to be completed by early 2023, Ministry of Public Works and Transport spokesman Vasim Sorya said on Monday. The 190km high-speed highway linking the capital to the