Mark Esper says EU maritime efforts complement US push on Iran

New US Defence Secretary will visit Central Command next week to discuss Iranian threats

USA's Acting Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, arrives for his first day in his new position at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, June 24, 2019. - Esper, who served in its much-heralded 101st Airborne Division, will bring the soldiering experience to the Department of Defense that former acting chief Patrick Shanahan lacked. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
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New US Defence Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday said the European maritime efforts to boost security against Iranian threats near the Strait of Hormuz were complementary to the Sentinel programme, which is under consideration by Washington.

On his first day in the job at the Pentagon, Mr Esper said talks between Britain, the Netherlands, France, Denmark and other European countries on sending naval ships to the Gulf added to American efforts.

He said the goal was to deter “provocative actions from Iran".

Mr Esper said the “freedom of navigation and ensuring no provocative actions in the strait" was a concern for everyone.

“Whether we do that as one big group or subgroups, as long as it complements one another," he said. "There will clearly be co-ordination between us all.”

Mr Esper said he would make his first trip to the Central Command headquarters in Tampa next week.

The command is responsible for putting together the plan for the Sentinel programme and oversees the Gulf region.

But Mr Esper was careful about the general responsibility of each country to defend its ships.

He said there was no policy he knew of to defend other countries' ships in the Gulf, but in certain situations the US would go to the aid of its allies.

“The Brits are escorting their ships and we will escort our ships, and I assume other countries will escort their ships,” Mr Esper said.

He repeated Washington’s preference for diplomacy with Iran and that the US wanted to avoid conflict.