Australia open to joining international effort to ratchet up pressure


A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australia was “deeply concerned by heightened tensions in the Middle East” and criticised Iran’s behaviour.

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“We are in consultation with our allies and partners and continue to follow the situation closely, including through our embassies in the region,” he said.

“Australia has made clear that it shares the international community’s concerns over Iran’s destabilising behaviours.”

With tensions running high after Iran shot down a US surveillance drone and Mr Trump then ordered an air strike in retaliation, only to cancel it minutes before it went ahead, Washington announced financial sanctions against Iran’s most senior leaders and military officials on Tuesday.

Mr Pompeo in now travelling in the Middle East and Asia, where one of his principal tasks is to build the coalition against Iran.

Washington’s European allies, meanwhile, have been trying to calm tensions.

The escalation between Washington and Tehran follows the Trump administration’s decision just over a year ago to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran that had been struck by his predecessor, Barack Obama, along with Britain, China, Russia, France and Germany.

The US has reportedly carried out a cyber attack on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s command and control system in recent days.

For its part, Iran has been testing the US and the international community. It has openly declared it is once again enriching uranium and will by Friday breach the limit on its stockpile that was set under the 2015 nuclear deal, even though the rest of the signatories remain committed other than the US.

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And it is the chief suspect in two attacks on oil tankers in the key oil route, the Strait of Hormuz.

While Australia still backs the Obama-era nuclear deal, Mr Morrison said in December Australia would “keep the option of additional autonomous sanctions [against Iran] under active review”.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Penny Wong, said the opposition was seeking a briefing from the government but added that Iran’s recent behaviour was “deeply concerning”.

“The Iranian regime’s behaviour continues to destabilise and threaten peace in the region,” she said. “We urge Iran to refrain from any further provocation and for both sides to look to ways to de-escalate.”

Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, wrote in an opinion article in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Tuesday that autonomous sanctions should be “an important part of a larger program for Australia to contribute” to help pile pressure on Iran.

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