The Trump administration is advancing a plan to escort or accompany ships through the Strait of Hormuz with international assistance, fearing an increase in attacks on oil tankers by Iranian forces.
White House and Defense Department officials told McClatchy this week that President Donald Trump wants a “coalition” convoy that will secure maritime transit through the vital strait, where a third of the world’s seaborne oil passes each day, after six tankers were attacked in May and June.
“The president is really pushing this to get it going — it’s either looking for a coalition to contribute physically or monetarily,” one White House official said. “The bottom line is America is the No. 1 producer of oil, and we want to defend global commons and commercial oil going through the Gulf, but we don’t necessarily need it. So the president is pushing hard and I think we’re making progress.”
At the Group of 20 summit last week in Japan, and at a peace conference in Bahrain, White House and State Department officials pressed allied leaders to commit to participate in the convoy operation. International support for a convoy would complicate potential Iranian efforts to harass U.S. ships and track with the president’s emphasis on burden-sharing, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the plan.
Trump had been frustrated with foreign leaders who had not joined the United States in assigning blame to Iran for the recent tanker attacks – in particular, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was in Iran when two Japanese tankers were struck on June 13. That led Trump to lash out on Twitter, two administration officials said.
“Why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey,” Trump wrote, specifically naming China and Japan. “We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!”
Trump has told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to lead the way on the initiative and is pressing him to recruit countries to demonstrably contribute to the coalition effort, the officials confirmed.
The administration is pursuing the convoy plan amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington in the strait and the wider region. Iran shot down a U.S. drone last month, exceeded limits on its stockpiling of nuclear material set by a nuclear deal with world powers, and may increase its enrichment of uranium to higher grades on Monday in response to the Trump administration’s crushing sanctions policy.
U.S. warships, including destroyers and cruisers, transit the strait regularly. But they have not escorted vessels since 1987, when the largest U.S. convoy of ships since World War II was sent to the Gulf to protect Kuwaiti-flagged vessels in what is known as the “Tanker War.”