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August 22, 2019

Australia to join US in Gulf security mission: US urges UN to extend Iran arms embargo


August 22, 2019

UNITED NATIONA, United States: The US urged the United Nations Tuesday to extend an arms embargo on Tehran that is due to expire next year as part of the embattled Iran nuclear deal.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council that the clock was ticking on a resolution restricting weapons sales to Iran that is due to end in October 2020. Pompeo warned that the expiration of provisions in Security Council Resolution 2231 would also see a travel ban on a key Iranian commander lifted.

"Time is drawing short to continue this activity of restricting Iran’s capacity to foment its terror regime," he said. "The international community will have plenty of time to see how long it has until Iran is unshackled to create new turmoil, and figure out what it must do to prevent that from happening," Pompeo added.

The resolution was passed as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal which the US, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain agreed with Tehran in 2015. The landmark deal was designed to curb Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the deal last year and reinstated economic sanctions, sending tensions between Washington and Tehran soaring. When the resolution expires next year, travel restrictions on Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, which operates abroad, and 23 other Iranians will be lifted.

"We believe that the UNSC has an important role to play to ensure that the arms embargo and the travel ban are continued," Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran told reporters in New York ahead of Pompeo’s remarks.

Trump’s administration is currently pursuing a "maximum pressure" campaign designed to force the Islamic republic to limit its nuclear programme and military activities. Iran has responded by suspending some of its commitments under the nuclear deal.

The situation has threatened to spiral out of control with ships attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized. Meanwhile, the US has been struggling to piece together an international coalition to protect cargo ships travelling through the Gulf.

Allies are concerned about being dragged into conflict with Iran while European countries are trying to keep the nuclear deal alive.In a related development, Australia will join the US-led mission to protect shipping through the Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions with Iran, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday.

Morrison said Australia would send a "modest" contribution -- including a frigate, a P8 maritime surveillance aircraft and support staff -- to the mission, which will also involve British and Bahraini forces.

"Our contribution will be limited in scope and it will be time-bound," Morrison said, expressing concern about security incidents in the vital shipping lane in the past few months. "This destabilising behaviour is a threat to Australian interests in the region," he said in a joint statement with his foreign and defence ministers.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper had pressed for Australia’s help patrolling the strategic waterway during a visit to Sydney earlier this month. The move followed a spate of incidents -- including the seizure of ships -- involving Iran and Western powers, in particular Britain and the US, centred on the vital Gulf channel.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Australian military staff would in coming weeks join the security operation’s headquarters in Bahrain, which announced its involvement in the operation on Tuesday.

The P8 Poseidon aircraft will patrol the region for a month, later in the year. The frigate, with a crew of some 170, will not be deployed to the joint operation until January and take part for six months, she said.

Morrison stressed that the deployment would be "modest, meaningful and time-limited" while defence experts said it was likely a "re-tasking" of planned deployments to the region to satisfy US requests.

The US had been struggling to piece together an international coalition to protect cargo ships travelling through the Gulf, with allies concerned about being dragged into conflict with Iran. Britain eventually agreed to participate two weeks ago, and Morrison’s government has debated the move since Pompeo and Esper made their direct appeal at the beginning of the month.

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