In move that could have repercussions for Japan, Australia to join U.S. in Gulf maritime security mission

In a move that could have repercussions for Japan, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Wednesday that his country will join the U.S.-led mission to protect shipping through the Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions with Iran.

Morrison said Australia would provide a frigate, a P8 maritime surveillance aircraft and support staff to the mission, which will also involve British forces.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper had requested Australia’s help patrolling the strategic waterway during a visit to Sydney earlier this month.

The coalition plan, called the Maritime Security Initiative, is being considered in the wake of attacks on two oil tankers — one of them operated by a Japanese shipping firm — near the Strait of Hormuz in June. The United States has blamed Iran for the incidents.

The move follows a spate of incidents — including the seizure of ships — involving Iran and Western powers, in particular Britain and the US, centered on the vital Gulf channel.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is likely to visit Japan this month for talks on the situation in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, it was learned Sunday from diplomatic sources. Iran is expected to communicate its position of opposing a U.S.-led coalition to protect shipping in the strait from Iranian military forces.

Washington has urged Japan to consider taking part in the coalition. Tokyo is exploring what role it can play in safeguarding ships in the Middle East while not impairing its long-standing friendship with Iran.

A Kyodo News survey showed Sunday that over half of voters oppose dispatching Self-Defense Forces personnel to the Middle East to join the coalition.

In the nationwide telephone poll conducted Saturday and Sunday, 57.1 percent said Japan should not send SDF forces to the region, while 28.2 percent said it should.

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