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Tuesday Jan 21 2020

Eight EU countries want joint naval force to patrol Strait of Hormuz: France


PARIS: The French foreign ministry said Monday that eight European Union nations had given their "political support" for a new naval patrol to help avoid potential conflicts in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategically critical entry to the Gulf.

Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal backed the new force, whose mission headquarters will be based in Abu Dhabi.

A Dutch frigate is expected to launch the patrol rotations by the end of February, a French army official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The move comes amid escalating tensions in the region, especially between Iran and the United States, that have sparked attacks on tankers and other conflicts in a crucial zone for oil shipping.

Iran is also backing Huthi rebels in Yemen who are locked in a years-long battle with a coalition force led by Saudi Arabia, which has led to ship seizures by Huthi fighters.

"For months this situation has jeopardised freedom of navigation and the security of both European and foreign ships and crews," the ministry said in a statement.

The Hormuz strait is considered especially vulnerable since it is only 50 kilometres (31 miles) wide and relatively shallow, with a maximum depth of 60 metres (200 feet).

The EU initiative also underscores the bloc´s goal of acting separately from the US, which launched its own operation alongside allies last November to protect shipping in Gulf waters.

France and its European allies are hoping to distance themselves from US President Donald Trump in order to save the landmark 2015 deal curtailing Tehran´s nuclear programme.

Trump abandoned the accord in 2018 and imposed economic sanctions against Iran, rekindling a smouldering conflict that led to strikes on cargo ships as well as Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

France, Denmark, Greece and the Netherlands have already confirmed they will contribute to the patrols, which will be based in the United Arab Emirates, and "new commitments" are expected in the coming days, the ministry said.