Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

US still seeking broad Gulf maritime coalition despite Germany’s snub

Decision angers Washington but officials keep trying to rally European and other allies for joint force to protect shipping against Iran

A US Marine observes an Iranian fast attack craft from USS John P Murtha during a Strait of Hormuz transit on July 18, 2019. US Navy via Reuters
A US Marine observes an Iranian fast attack craft from USS John P Murtha during a Strait of Hormuz transit on July 18, 2019. US Navy via Reuters

The Trump administration is still in contact with partners in Europe, Asia and the Gulf to form a maritime coalition, or Sentinel programme, to counter Iranian threats and ensure freedom of navigation.

Germany’s announcement on Wednesday that it would not be part of a coalition was met with angry words from US officials.

“Germany is the biggest economic power in Europe. This success brings global responsibilities,” the US ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell, told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

He then brought up US sacrifices during the Second World War. “

America has sacrificed a lot to help Germany remain part of the West,” Mr Grenell said.

The US is still in talks with the UK, France and other European countries to advance a coalition.

The nature of the mission and what these countries would bring to it is another subject of disagreement, and France has not announced a decision yet.

In Congress on Wednesday, Vice Admiral Michael Gilday, who is nominated by President Donald Trump to become chief of naval operations, said the Sentinel programme envisions "80 or 90 per cent coalition effort and a much smaller US effort that is primarily focused on providing intelligence support”.

“We will escort our ships as they come along, but we won't be there in great numbers. The idea is for the regional partners to bear the lion's share of the burden,” Adml Gilday said.

US Central Command said the programme would “enable nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the co-operation of participating nations”.

Newly appointed Defence Secretary Mark Esper made his first trip to the command's headquarters in Tampa, Florida this week.

He was accompanied by the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Joseph Dunford, and Gen Richard Clark, commander of special operations.

“I’m proud of the work the men and women of the Department of Defence are doing here in Tampa and across the Middle East to deter aggression, counter terrorism, build partner capacity and strengthen our strategic defence relationships,” Mr Esper tweeted.

Bahrain hosted a Gulf maritime security meeting on Wednesday but no agreement was reached there.

Albania’s Defence Minister, Olta Xhacka, tweeted support for "all efforts to guarantee free trade" in the Strait of Hormuz, and South Korea said it could be willing to send a naval unit there, Reuters reported.

The US, in a nudge to European states, announced late on Wednesday that it was extending nuclear waivers allowing participation in civil nuclear projects with Tehran.

The waivers are included in the Iran nuclear deal from which Washington withdrew last year, and have been extended for 90 days.

"The action today will help preserve oversight of Iran's civil nuclear programme, reduce proliferation risks, constrain Iran's ability to shorten its 'breakout time' to a nuclear weapon, and prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes," US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

National Security Adviser John Bolton told Fox Business Network: “I think the idea here is we are watching those nuclear activities very, very closely."

Updated: August 1, 2019 11:54 PM

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