July 12, 2019 12:50
The U.S. has asked Japan to join allied efforts to protect civilian oil tankers off the coast of Iran, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported Thursday. The move comes as U.S. President Donald Trump limbers up for war with Iran, escalating the threat of clashes in the Strait of Hormuz.
Washington claims Iran was behind attacks on civilian tankers in the region last month, which Tehran denies. The government here said it has yet to receive a request from the U.S. to participate in the operation, but there are fears that the request will come soon.
Tokyo is considering the request. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami told reporters that Washington and Tokyo "have exchanged opinions" but declined to elaborate.
Meanwhile, Kim Hyun-chong, Cheong Wa Dae's deputy national security adviser, flew to Washington on Wednesday to persuade officials there to side with Korea in an escalating spat with Japan. He was accompanied by Foreign Ministry officials.
A Cheong Wa Dae official said they will "discuss cooperative measures between Korea and the U.S. regarding Japanese export restrictions and ask Washington to play an active role in the matter."
The trade-off could be that Korea has to commit its own warships to the Gulf. One diplomatic source said, "The Strait of Hormuz is a key transport route in deliveries of crude oil to Korea and it will be difficult to turn down a U.S. request. We may be taking on a huge diplomatic risk."
But the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has already said that Korea and Japan must solve their diplomatic spat by themselves.
Committee Chairman James Risch told Voice of America that he "has every confidence" that Seoul and Tokyo will be able to resolve the dispute. Sen. Chris Coons also said the dispute "can be worked out in a responsible fashion between two such trusted allies."
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