Bahrain joins US-led coalition to protect Gulf shipping

Bahrain joins US-led coalition to protect Gulf shipping
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Bahrain will join the U.S.-led effort to protect shipping lanes in the Gulf region, the kingdom announced Monday.

King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa “confirmed the Kingdom of Bahrain’s participation in the joint effort to preserve the safety of international maritime navigation and secure international corridors for trade and energy in the region,” the official Bahrain News Agency reported.

The announcement came while the top U.S. commander for the region, Gen. Frank McKenzie, was meeting with the king in Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

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In a statement later, McKenzie said he welcomed Bahrain’s entrance into the nascent coalition.

“The free flow of commerce throughout international waterways is a linchpin of the global economy, and we appreciate the Kingdom of Bahrain's leadership and support in preventing aggression from curtailing that freedom,” said McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command.

“Threats to the free flow of commerce are an international problem requiring an international solution, and we are pleased that the Kingdom of Bahrain will be a part of that solution,” he added.

Neither Bahrain’s announcement nor McKenzie’s statement elaborated on what form Bahrain’s participation will take.

The United States has been trying to convince allies and partners to join a coalition to protect commercial vessels traveling through the Gulf region amid heightened tensions with Iran.

The United States has blamed Iran for attacks on several oil tankers in the region, and Iran has been detaining a British-flagged tanker since last month.

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The U.S. plan, dubbed Operation Sentinel, would see coalition partners escorting ships through the region, with the U.S. military in a support role providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Following Iran seizing the British tanker, the United Kingdom announced its own effort to protect shipping in the Gulf, an effort U.S. and U.K. officials have described as complementary to the U.S. plan.

The United States has struggled to convince other countries to join the plan, though, particularly European nations worried about harming efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal that President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE withdrew from last year. Late last month, Germany said it would not join the U.S. effort.

But Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperHillicon Valley: Twitter shares more details on political ad rules | Supreme Court takes up Google-Oracle fight | Pentagon chief defends Microsoft cloud contract Overnight Defense: Ex-Ukraine ambassador offers dramatic day of testimony | Talks of 'crisis' at State Department | Trump tweets criticism of envoy during hearing | Dems warn against 'witness intimidation' | Trump defends his 'freedom of speech' Esper: Pentagon contract fairly awarded to Microsoft over Amazon MORE said earlier this month he saw the U.S. plan gaining traction, predicting that countries would soon announce their participation.

“We had various degrees of commitment, so I think we’ll have some announcements coming out soon in the coming days where you’ll see countries begin to sign up,” Esper told reporters traveling with him in Australia.