TOKYO – United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper asked Japan on Wednesday to join a naval coalition that the US is trying to set up in the Persian Gulf to escort tankers amid tensions with Iran, a Japanese official said.
Esper conveyed the request to the Japanese government during his meetings in Tokyo with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya.
Iwaya did not offer details about his conversation with the Pentagon chief but said that Japan will study the US’ request, keeping in mind its own strategic interests in the Persian Gulf.
Speaking to media after his meeting with Esper, Iwaya said that the Middle East is an extremely important area for Japan from the point of view of energy and security.
Japan will make its final decision taking into account the impact on oil prices and its relations with Iran and the US, he added.
Speaking to US media aboard his flight to Japan, Esper said that the Asian country “should strongly consider” the US’ proposal for the Strait of Hormuz, as would “any and every country that has an interest in freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.”
The US secretary of defense is using his tour of Oceania and Asia – his first international trip since taking up his post in late July – to try to shore up support for the coalition aimed at protecting freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf in the face of alleged threats from Iran.
Since May 2018, there have been a series of attacks on oil tankers in the region, through which a fifth of the world’s crude oil passes. Washington has attributed the attacks to Iran, who has denied any hand in them.
These include attacks on two tankers, one of them Japanese, on June 13, the same day Abe was in Iran to meet Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in what proved to be a failed attempt to facilitate dialog between Tehran and Washington.