WASHINGTON – The calls are coming with increasing frequency and from every level, including from President Donald Trump himself: Help us with Iran.
After Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and re-imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran, his administration is now looking to other countries to help contain the apparent fallout.
The United States’ plan to secure the critical Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf, outlined earlier this week by Army Secretary Mark Esper, Trump's Defense secretary nominee, includes “passive patrols” by an international coalition that could deter Iran from further provocations.
Dubbed “Operation Sentinel,” the initiative would “enable nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance,” U.S. Central Command detailed in a statement.
But the effort to sign up other countries has run into difficulties because of fears that moving more military assets to the area will inflame tensions with Iran even further, Reuters reported Friday.
That has left administration officials pleading for coalition partners as Tehran has continued disruptions in the critical oil-shipping waterway. On Thursday, after Trump announced the United States had destroyed an Iranian drone, he called on "all nations to condemn Iran's attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce."
“I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the Strait, and to work with us in the future,” he added.
On Friday, after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps seized a British tanker, the Pentagon put out a statement saying the multi-national marine operation was still in development.
“While the United States has committed to supporting this initiative, contributions and leadership from regional and international partners will be required to succeed,” U.S. Central Command said.
“U.S. officials continue to coordinate with allies and partners in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East on the details and capabilities required for Operation Sentinel to enable freedom of navigation in the region and protect vital shipping lanes.”
The British government, meanwhile, has warned Iran of “serious consequences” if it does not release the tanker, though Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ruled out military action. Iran on Saturday cast the seizure as a "reciprocal action" for the UK's impounding of an Iranian tanker earlier this month suspected of violating sanctions and carrying oil to Syria.
Trump told reporters Friday that "This only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran: trouble.”
"Nothing but trouble," he said.
'Mistake and miscalculation'
The situation has the potential to escalate quickly. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said earlier this week that he had seen a map of military assets in the region and worried that "there are so many opportunities for mistake and miscalculation on both sides."
Esper, the defense secretary nominee, told King he believed the multi-national patrolling effort will work. He cited an incident earlier this month when British officials said Iran's Revolutionary Guard tried to block a British oil tanker but backed off after receiving warnings from a British navy vessel that was accompanying the tanker.
Esper said the presence of the navy ship "was enough to deter something that could have escalated out of control."
"That’s the type of concept we're trying to envision, DOD, throughout the Strait so we don’t get into a military fight," he said. "We push it into a diplomatic realm."
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump, United States want other countries to help contain Iran