UAE says it is pulling out of US-led Gulf maritime coalition
PHOTO CAPTION: U.S. Navy Fireman Jorge Quirarte mans a M240 machine gun aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) while departing the port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 2, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elliot Schaudt via U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)
By Lisa Barrington
DUBAI (Reuters) -The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday it was no longer taking part in operations by a U.S.-led task force protecting Gulf shipping, which has been subjected to renewed tanker seizures by Iranian naval forces in recent weeks.
The UAE was responding to a Wall Street Journal report on Tuesday which, citing U.S. and Gulf sources, said the Gulf state was frustrated by the lack of U.S. response to recent tanker seizures by Iran.
This was a "mischaracterisation" of conversations between the two countries, a UAE statement said.
But it said it had stopped taking part in the Combined Maritime Forces, headquartered at the U.S. naval base in Bahrain, two months ago.
The UAE had however not left the CMF - which was formed in 2001 to help counter international terrorism - and remains one of the 38 partner nations working on security, counter-terrorism and counter-piracy in the Red Sea and Gulf regions, the CMF website shows.
The UAE statement did not make clear why it had stopped participating or whether it would rejoin.
It said only that the UAE was committed to dialogue and diplomatic engagement to advance regional security and stability, and also to ensuring navigation safety in its seas in accordance with international law.
The UAE foreign and defence ministries did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
A U.S. official confirmed the UAE remained a CMF partner nation. He told Reuters the UAE was broadly concerned with what actions would be taken in response to tanker seizures, just as it was after Iran-backed Houthi missile strikes on the UAE in January 2022, or any other destabilising activity close to home.
The Gulf region contains some of the world's most important shipping routes where, since 2019, there have been a series of attacks on vessels at times of tension between arch-adversaries Iran and the United States, a major security ally of Gulf Arab states.
Five weeks ago, Iran seized two tankers within a week in Gulf waters near the Strait of Hormuz. The second tanker, the Niovi, had been travelling from Dubai in the Gulf toward the UAE's Arabian Sea port of Fujairah.
The CMF regularly reports intercepting drug smuggling in Gulf waters. Last week it established a new task force to train partner navies to enhance maritime security in the Middle East.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; editing by Christopher Cushing and Mark Heinrich)