Published: Wed, August 21, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Australia to join US-led coalition to protect shipping off Iran

Australia to join US-led coalition to protect shipping off Iran

SYDNEY/DUBAI, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Australia will join the United States in a security mission to protect merchant vessels travelling through key Middle East waterways after Iran seized a British-flagged vessel, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.

The friction is rooted in U.S. President Donald Trump's decision in May 2018 to unilaterally withdraw from a landmark nuclear deal signed in 2015 between world powers and Iran.

It will send a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane to the region for a month and an Australian frigate for six months from next year.

"The government has decided it's in Australia's national interests to work with our worldwide partners to contribute", he told reporters at Parliament House on Wednesday.

Australian forces will make a "modest, meaningful and time-limited" contribution to a United States-led mission in the Strait of Hormuz aimed at protecting freedom of navigation in the Gulf region.

Morrison stressed that the deployment would be "modest, meaningful and time-limited" while defence experts said it was likely a "re-tasking" of planned deployments to the region to satisfy U.S. requests.

However, However, Australia will officially operate under its own Operation Manitou, not the US -led initiative to secure the strategic waterway.

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Labor has supported the new mission as "appropriate", but critics are warning the involvement of Australia's military in the region could be seen as an "act of aggression" in breach of global law.

"Freedom of navigation through global waters is a fundamental right of all states under worldwide law", he said.

However, the prime minister made it clear the mission could be extended.

Iran has been blamed for attacks on two oil tankers - one of them operated by a Japanese shipping firm - in June.

This comes amid USA attempts to convince countries to join the coalition after multiple attacks on commercial shipping vessels believed to have been carried out by Iran in recent months.

On July 4, an Iranian tanker was seized in Gibraltar, a British territory.

"No amount of foreign military presence can prevent insecurity in this region".

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