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U.S. Commitment to Global Shipping Tested as Marshall Islands Calls for Help in Iran Standoff

The Marshall Islands needs American help in its standoff with Iran over a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship that was seized by Iran today, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin reported [1] for Bloomberg News.

When asked if his country would request that the U.S. rescue the cargo ship from Iran, Junior Aini, the charge d’affairs for the Marshall Islands Embassy in Washington, told us he was still awaiting guidance from his foreign ministry. But he also suggested that his country had no other recourse than to hope the U.S. responds.

“The United States has the full security responsibility over the islands and for the defense of the islands, this is what our treaty says,” he told us. Aini was referring to a 1986 accord between the U.S. and the island nation that set the terms for independence. The Marshall Islands has no standing army. News that Iran had boarded the Maersk Tigris surprised Aini. He said he initially learned about the incident from watching Fox News.

Lake and Rogin speculate that the seizure of the MV Maersk Tigris may be a direct challenge to the United States.

The incident seems a direct response to President Barack Obama’s decision last week to send warships to the Arabian Sea. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said at the time that the warships were meant on “a very clear mission to ensure that shipping lanes remain open, to ensure there’s freedom of navigation through those critical waterways, and to help ensure maritime security.” On Tuesday, Warren told reporters it was “inappropriate” for Iran to fire shots at the cargo ship. He said the U.S. is looking into any obligation it may have for Marshall Islands-flagged ship.

The Marshall Islands have no standing army and depend on the United States for their defense. The U.S. State Department website explains [2] that “[t]he United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands.”

The Maersk Tigris was commandeered by Iranian ships earlier today, prompting the United States [3] to send a ship and aircraft to monitor the situation. The BBC reports [4]:

A US naval destroyer has been ordered to the region to “monitor” the situation.

The ship was in an area recognised as an international shipping lane, he went on.

US aircraft were ordered to the area to “observe the interaction” between the Maersk vessel and Iranian forces.

[Photo: VOA Farsi / YouTube [5] ]