Australia’s foreign minister insists it is “absolutely” in the national interest to send troops to defend oil tankers in the Middle East.
Military experts and academics have questioned the wisdom of signing up to the US-led mission in the Persian Gulf, and raised concerns about “mission creep”.
But Marise Payne has defended the decision to deploy a plane, frigate and Australian personnel to the Strait of Hormuz.
Senator Payne argued the military operation will help de-escalate tensions in the region, particularly in relation to Iran, and ensure crucial shipping lanes remain open.
“Endeavouring to support a de-escalation process in this particular maritime security construct is, I think, an appropriate and reasonable thing for Australia to do,” she told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.
“We always manage these things in our own national interests and in relation to our own national security, and we will continue to do so in this case.”
Former army chief Peter Leahy has argued Australia’s priorities should be far closer to home and has cautioned against shifting its military gaze.
Senator Payne disagrees.
“We are very much able to engage in this international maritime security construct and do the work we already do in the region,” she said.
“We are more than capable of engaging in this particular de-escalation process which supports freedom of navigation, which is so fundamental to this region.”
Senator Payne said Australia’s involvement in the US-led military mission was separate to America’s “maximum campaign of pressure” against Iran.
“We have a very good working relationship with the Iranians – we talk to them regularly,” she said.
“We have an embassy in Iran, which is something that not very many other countries are able to say.”
Australia supports the Iranian nuclear deal, which America has withdrawn from, leading to months of heightened tensions.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to meet Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in France this weekend.
However, it is not clear whether Mr Morrison will try to convince the US president to get back to the negotiating table and re-engage with Iran on the nuclear deal.
“I’m not going to speculate on all of the content of the conversations that the prime minister and the president might have,” Senator Payne said.
“I’m personally hoping to see Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at a conference in Bangladesh next month, which is also an opportunity to continue our talks.”