Germany ‘has not offered’ to join U.S.-led mission for Strait of Hormuz

BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Germany has not offered to join a U.S.-led naval mission in the Strait of Hormuz as it wants to calm tensions with Iran, a government spokeswoman said on Wednesday, while the defense minister suggested a final decision had not yet been taken.

Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

The United States had asked Germany to join France and Britain in a mission to secure shipping through the strait, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes, and to “combat Iranian aggression”, the U.S. Embassy in Berlin said on Tuesday.

“The government is reticent about the concrete U.S. proposal and so has not made an offer,” government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told a news conference in Berlin after a cabinet meeting.

Ties between Iran and the United States have deteriorated since Washington pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran last year and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. Germany, France and Britain have tried to keep the deal alive.

“For us, it is important to pursue the avenue of diplomacy … and to seek talks with Iran to achieve a de-escalation, and to work toward the continuation of the nuclear deal,” Demmer said. “Participating in a U.S.-led mission could make this harder.”

In Brussels, Germany’s new Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested a final decision had not been taken.

“We now have a first general request from the United States, the other international partners for a possible mission,” she told reporters before a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“We are reviewing these requests, in close cooperation with Britain and France, and we are doing this against the backdrop of our political and diplomatic goals and in this overall assessment a corresponding decision will be taken,” she said.

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Earlier, German Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was important to avoid a military escalation in the Gulf region and that a U.S.-led mission carried the risk of being dragged into an even bigger conflict.

“I’m very skeptical about that, and I think that’s a scepticism that many others share,” Scholz, who chaired Wednesday’s cabinet meeting while Chancellor Angela Merkel is on holiday, told ZDF television.

EUROPEAN MISSION?

There is considerable opposition among Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Merkel’s ruling coalition, to getting involved in a U.S-led mission.

Scholz said Berlin still viewed the international nuclear agreement with Iran as the best option to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb.

Asked whether the coalition parties shared the same view on the U.S. request, Scholz said: “Yes, that’s my impression.”

FILE PHOTO: German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz is pictured in Berlin, Germany, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

Norbert Roettgen, a member of Merkel’s conservative bloc, said he believed Germany should not join the U.S.-led mission, but he backed the idea of a European mission.

“The alternative is a European mission, if necessary without the British, if they decide for the U.S.,” Roettgen, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign relations committee, told broadcaster ZDF.

Demmer said that, in principle, Berlin “continues to regard the proposal of a maritime protection mission by European countries as worth considering.”

Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber, Madeline Chambers, Tassilo Hummel and Michelle Martin; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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