Australia rules out US missiles in Darwin

Australia

Scott Morrison has hosed down suggestions the US is aiming to put ground-based missiles in Darwin.

The prime minister said the US had not requested a missile deployment in northern Australia after Defence Minister Linda Reynolds poured cold water on the idea.

“It’s not been asked of us, not being considered, not been put to us. I think I can rule a line under that,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.

At a ministerial meeting on Sunday, Senator Reynolds quizzed-newly appointed US Defence Secretary Mark Esper about reports America wanted to station missiles in Darwin.

“You would expect the US secretary of defence to canvass all of these issues in light of what’s happening in the Indo-Pacific,” she told ABC Radio National on Monday.

“But I can confirm that he made no request and he wasn’t anticipating any request.”

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison indicated Australia could join a United States-led international effort to secure shipping in the Persian Gulf, stressing the importance of making the crucial trade route safer.

Canberra is considering joining Washington’s efforts to stitch together a global coalition to hit back after Iran captured foreign oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.

Mr Morrison said the international effort was about providing freedom of shipping lanes in a sensitive and economically important part of the world.

“It’s important that we make the Straits of Hormuz safer than they currently are,” he told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.

“The purpose here is to de-escalate tensions, not to escalate them, and that has very much been the focus of the conversations we’ve had with our American partners.”

He said it was important to separate the Strait of Hormuz from any wider tensions, including the dispute between the US and Iran over nuclear proliferation.

“This is about safe shaping lanes which is is good for global peace,” the prime minister said.

The strait is considered the world’s most important waterway for oil shipments, with Australia reliant on shipping in the region for some of its oil supply.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the action in the Persian Gulf aimed to head off a physical military conflict and protect the economies of countries including Australia, Japan and South Korea.

He said more than 60 nations had been asked to provide assistance in securing commercial vessels’ passage through the Strait of Hormuz.

“Australia could join in a number of ways. It’s a highly capable, sophisticated military. There are many assets it could deploy,” Mr Pompeo told Sky News during a trip to Sydney for ministerial meetings.

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