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US readies plan for escorting oil tankers through Strait of Hormuz

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US readies plan for escorting oil tankers through Strait of Hormuz

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'Maritime security initiative' to be unveiled Friday

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Washington — Military escorts of oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz by a US-led coalition will deter additional vessel attacks and "provocation or miscalculation" through the key oil chokepoint, US Secretary of Defense nominee Mark Esper said Tuesday.

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The US Department of Defense and Department of State plan on Friday to unveil a "maritime security initiative" for the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman, Brian Hook, State's special representative for Iran, said during a separate Axios event Tuesday.

"It's got to be internationalized," Hook said. "Most of the oil that flows through the strait finds its way to Asia and it's very important for like-minded nations in that region to play a part. We do need to internationalize an operation to enhance maritime security."

Esper first floated the idea of a broader coalition to patrol the world's busiest oil chokepoint after oil tanker attacks in May and June just outside the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf of Oman.

During his nomination hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Esper said the presence of a British Royal Navy warship last week prevented an incident between Iranian vessels and a UK-owned oil tanker from escalating.

"The warship putting itself in between the [Islamic Revolution Guard Corps] boats and the merchant vessel was enough to deter something that could have escalated out of control," Esper told senators. "That's the type of concept we're trying to envision throughout the strait so we don't get into a military fight. We push it into the diplomatic realm."

Hook told reporters at the Axios event that a number of countries have requested additional maritime security from the US following recent attacks on oil tankers in the region amid growing tensions between the US and Iran. He declined to say which countries had asked for more security and would not offer further details on the overall initiative.

"Iran's attacks on shipping have been global in nature," Hook said, pointing out that the May 12 attacks on four ships off Fujairah's coast in the Gulf of Oman impacted 16 different countries. "We're confident that there will be an international effort to promote maritime security."

Japan has no plans to immediately send its Self-Defense Forces to join the US-led coalition in the Strait of Hormuz, defense minister Takeshi Iwaya said Tuesday. About 80% of Japan's oil imports transit the chokepoint, and a Japanese company operated one of the ships attacked June 13.

"Since there is no similar incidents after that, we are collecting information thoroughly as well as closely monitoring the overall Middle East situation," he added.

-- Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@spglobal.com

-- Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, newsdesk@spglobal.com