The United States will move ahead with plans to build a coalition of nations to monitor and deter Iranian threats against commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf area and in a heavy trafficked waterway between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.
Marine General Joseph Dunford – the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff – said the Pentagon had developed a specific plan and that he believed it would be clear within a couple of weeks which nations were willing to join the effort.
He said the US was talking to a number of countries with the “political will” to support the plans.
The US would provide “command and control” ships, leading surveillance efforts, he said. However, the aim would be for other countries to offer boats to establish patrols nearby and escort commercial ships carrying their flags through the area.
Mark Esper, the acting secretary of defence, raised the issue last month with allied officials at Nato headquarters, but no nations were ready to commit to participating.
He said at the time that the plans would have to be further refined.
Gen Dunford said he discussed the matter with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday and that plans were coming together.
The US has blamed Iran for attacks on six oil tankers in May and June.
“We’re getting ready now to move out,” Mr Dunford said. “We have a pretty clear concept of what we want to do.”
He suggested the project could begin with a small coalition.
“This will be scalable,” he said. “So with a small number of contributors we can have a small mission and we’ll expand that as the number of nations that are willing to participate identify themselves.”
The move comes as Iran’s president declared Britain would face “repercussions” over the seizure of an Iranian supertanker last week that authorities in Gibraltar suspect was breaching European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.
Hassan Rouhani was quoted as calling the seizure “mean and wrong” during a Cabinet meeting.
“You are an initiator of insecurity and you will understand its repercussions,” he warned the British government, calling for the “full security” of international shipping lanes.
The tanker’s detention comes at a particularly sensitive time as tensions between the US and Iran grow over the unravelling of the 2015 nuclear deal, from which US president Donald Trump withdrew last year. In recent weeks, Iran has begun to openly breach limits on uranium enrichment set by the deal in order to pressure European signatories to salvage it.
Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has meanwhile denied the supertanker belonged to Iran, saying whoever owned the oil shipment and the vessel could pursue the case through legal avenues. Iran had earlier summoned the British ambassador over what it called the “illegal interception” of the ship.
The latest US-Iranian tensions date back to last year when Mr Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord and restored heavy sanctions on Iran, including its oil industry, exacerbating an economic crisis that has sent the currency plummeting.
A senior Iranian security official said yesterday Iran would not reverse its decision to increase uranium enrichment beyond the limits set by the accord until it achieves its “full rights” under the deal.
Ali Shamkhani told a French envoy the decision to increase enrichment was an “unchangeable strategy” and criticised European countries for their “lack of will” in providing relief from US sanctions, according to the official IRNA news agency. France and other countries have called on Iran to go back to complying with the nuclear deal.