Australia

Australia weighs up Mideast maritime role

Tensions have increased after attacks on tankers in the world's most important oil waterway. (AAP)

Defence officials are weighing up whether to back the United States in greater measures to safeguard freedom of navigation off Iran and Yemen.

Australia is consulting with its allies and partners on the situation in the Middle East, as the United States works on a possible military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen.

Under the plan, the US would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts for the military coalition, the top US general Joseph Dunford says.

Allies would patrol waters near those US command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation's flags.

A spokeswoman for Australia's Defence Department told AAP on Wednesday the government was "deeply concerned by heightened tensions in the Gulf".

"We strongly condemn the recent attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Oman. Australia relies on freedom of navigation and the uninterrupted passage of maritime trade," the spokeswoman said.

"As a matter of course, Australia consults closely with our allies and partners on the situation in the Middle East. We are following the situation closely, including through our embassies in the region."

Marine General Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it would be known within weeks "which nations have the political will" to support the initiative.

Iran has long threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world's oil passes, if it was unable to export its oil.

US President Donald Trump's administration has used new sanctions as a way to pressure Tehran to renegotiate a deal on its nuclear program.

Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos, who is set to take over as US ambassador, said freedom of passage through international waters is vital.

"It is important for countries to act in accordance with agreements they've made ... and it is important for us to send a signal to other countries around the world that we stand strong with the United States in encouraging freedom of navigation," he told ABC TV on Wednesday.

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