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US asks Germany to join Strait of Hormuz mission

Alexander Pearson
July 30, 2019

The US wants Germany to take part in a naval mission to protect ships sailing near Iran. German politicians were less than thrilled by the initiative, which aims to "combat Iranian aggression."

A handout photo released by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 26 February 2014 shows the British type 23 (Duke class) frigate 'HMS Montrose' (F236) of the Royal Navy operating next to the Norwegian cargo vessel 'Taiko' (L) in the Mediterranean Sea near Cyprus
Image: picture-alliance/EPA/Royal Navy/A. Knott

The United States has formally asked Germany to join a naval mission to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, the US embassy in Berlin said Tuesday.

Earlier, embassy spokeswoman Tamara Sternberg-Greller told the DPA news agency about the request. The embassy confirmed the statements to DW.

"We’ve formally asked Germany to join France and the UK to help secure the Strait of Hormuz and combat Iranian aggression," she said.

"Members of the German government have been clear that freedom of navigation should be protected," Sternberg-Greller said. "Our question is, protected by whom?"

'Suddenly' part of a war

According to the DPA news agency, the request had actually been sent to Berlin some days ago but failed to make an impression on the German government. Berlin had not yet made any plans for "any contribution" to a US-led mission, Germany's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas repeatedly stated that Germany sees "de-escalation and diplomatic efforts" as a priority. "Taking part in the American strategy of maximum pressure is out of the question," he was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Senior lawmakers in both the SPD and Angela Merkel's CDU party also rejected the idea.

Ranking SPD lawmaker in charge of foreign policy Nils Schmid also criticized the initiative in a statement to Germany's public broadcaster ARD. If Germany joined the mission, "you would suddenly be siding with Americans in a war with Iran."

A European answer

The chief of Bundestag's Foreign Policy Committee, conservative Norbert Röttgen, said that the crisis required a European answer. "We cannot have a joint mission with the US right now, because the Europeans are pursuing a completely different policy towards Iran," Röttgen said.

Separately, the foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU parliamentary group told DW that it was too early to assess whether Germany should join it.

"I would only like to pass judgement about such an operation after more details are presented," Jürgen Hardt said. He added that the German military would nevertheless be "prepared" to make a "positive" contribution should the government opt to take part in the force."

German Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday the risk of being dragged into a greater conflict was too great. "That's why I think this is not a good idea," he told public broadcaster ZDF.

Insecure shipping

The UK last week proposed the European-led force to protect shipping in the Gulf in response to Iran's seizure of the UK-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker on July 19.

France, Denmark, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden are reportedly interested in the mission.

The seizure of the Stena Impero came two weeks after the UK detained an Iranian supertanker near Gibraltar for allegedly transporting oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

The UK-Iran tanker dispute comes amid rising tensions between Iran and Europe over a string of separate tanker attacks and Iran's decision to abandon parts of a 2015 deal that restricted its nuclear program.

Relations between the United States and Iran have also worsened. Both countries claim to have shot down drones belonging to the other state in the past several weeks.

The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world's most important shipping lanes. Almost a third of all oil exports pass through the waterway, which is located between Iran and Oman.

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