11 Jul 2019

Winston Peters calls for peaceful resolution to US-Iran tensions

1:11 pm on 11 July 2019

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says no decisions have been made about whether New Zealand will join the United States' call for a military coalition to safeguard waters around Iran and Yemen.

Winston talks about Euthanasia Bill

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says New Zealand is encouraging all parties to resolve differences peacefully. Photo: RNZ / DOM THOMAS

The US is working to form the coalition to protect commercial shipping by patroling the strategic waters in the Gulf area and the sea between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

It comes amid heightened tensions in the region, following attacks on six oil tankers in the Gulf, which the US has blamed on Iran.

Mr Peters said he understood the US was reaching out to all of its partners, but added that no decisions had been made at this time.

He said New Zealand continued to encourage all parties to resolve differences peacefully.

In addition to the attacks on the tankers, tensions in the region were also heightened when Iran shot down a US drone near the Strait, prompting President Donald Trump to order retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off.

United States call for allies to patrol waters

Reuters reported that under the plan, which has only been finalised in recent days, the United States would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts for the military coalition.

Allies would patrol waters near those US command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation's flags.

"We're engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab," said Marine General Joseph Dunford.

"And so I think probably over the next couple of 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."

Iran has long threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world's oil passes, if it was unable to export its oil, something Mr Trump's administration has sought as a way to pressure Tehran to renegotiate a deal on its nuclear program.

Although US officials had publicly discussed plans to safeguard the Strait, Mr Dunford's disclosure that the coalition would also seek to bolster security in the Bab al-Mandab off Yemen appeared to be a new element.

The United States, as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have long fretted over attacks by Iran-aligned Houthi fighters in the narrow Bab al-Mandab waterway, which connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

Nearly 4 million barrels of oil are shipped daily through the Bab al-Mandab to Europe, the United states and Asia plus commercial goods.

Mr Dunford said the United States would provide "command and control" ships but said the goal would be for other countries to provide vessels to patrol waters between those command ships.

The third part of the mission would involve coalition members escorting their countries' commercial vessels.

"The expectation is that the actual patrolling and escorts would be done by others," he said. Mr Dunford said the size of the campaign could be adjusted based on the number of countries that commit to it.

"This will be scaleable, right? 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," he said.

- with additional reporting by Reuters

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