SEOUL: The South Korean government is in discussions with the US over plans to join a multinational naval coalition to protect shipping in the Arabian Gulf in the face of alleged Iranian threats, Foreign Ministry officials revealed on Thursday.
The move came after Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated the US was holding talks with several nations to send ships to safeguard waters surrounding Iran and Yemen.
“The (South Korean) government is concerned about the escalation of tensions in the Middle East region,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said in a briefing.
“Our position is that freedom of navigation and commerce should not be put into jeopardy.”
The spokesman said his ministry has yet to receive any formal request on the coalition matter.
“We’ll keep discussing the issue with the US side,” Kim said. “No details have been discussed yet about when, how and what we would do.”
Washington is seeking to enlist its allies for a multinational coalition to operate in waters off Iran and Yemen to secure commercial shipping and prevent attacks that could harm the world’s oil supply.
A fifth of the oil that is consumed globally passes through the Strait of Hormuz, connecting the Indian Ocean with the Gulf.
“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab Al-Mandeb,” Dunford said on Tuesday.
“Probably over the next couple of weeks we’ll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we’ll work directly with the militaries to identify the special capabilities that will support that.”
He said the US military would provide “command and control” ships, while other coalition members should send ships to patrol waters between the American naval vessels.
South Korea has participated in previous US-led coalition operations, as the country has long been dependent on US military forces for protection against North Korea, with the two Koreas technically still at war.
In 2004, South Korea sent a 3,600-strong continent to Iraq for humanitarian and rehabilitation operations. About 200 engineers and medics were also dispatched to Afghanistan in support of the US war on terrorism.
The South Korean Navy is a member of anti-piracy operations in the Somali waters.
The unit, called “Cheonghae,” has escorted thousands of South Korean and international vessels in and around the Gulf of Aden since 2009.
As of February, the Cheonghae Unit escorted 21,895 vessels and conducted 21 operations to counter piracy on the seas, according to the service.
The total sailing distance of the unit amounted to 1.95 million km.
It also takes part in the Combined Maritime Force, a multinational naval force dedicated to maintaining maritime safety and combating piracy, and conducts joint military drills with the EU’s maritime security operations.