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No US missiles in Darwin without Australia's permission: Pompeo

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Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has poured cold water on the prospect of US ground-based missiles being deployed in northern Australia.

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At a ministerial meeting on Sunday, Senator Reynolds quizzed newly appointed US Defence Secretary Mark Esper about reports America wanted to station missiles in Darwin.

“I did discuss it yesterday with secretary Esper and he confirmed that there was no ask of Australia and none was expected,” she told ABC Radio National on Monday.

“You would expect the US Secretary of Defence to canvass all of these issues in light of what’s happening in the Indo-Pacific, but I can confirm that he made no request and he wasn’t anticipating any request.”

Esper was in Australia along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Senator Reynolds and Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Pompeo stressed the missiles wouldn’t be deployed in Darwin or elsewhere without Canberra’s support.

“When we employ these systems around the world with our friends and allies we do so with their consent,” he told reporters after Sunday’s meetings.

Should the US develop weapons with a range of 5500km, southern China would be comfortably within the range of a missile stationed in Darwin.

Meanwhile, Pompeo has given Australia a number of options for its potential involvement in helping make the Strait of Hormuz safe for international commercial ships passing Iran.

Canberra is giving the request “very serious” consideration as Washington tries to stitch together a global coalition to hit back after Iran captured foreign oil tankers in the strait.

Pompeo described the action in the Persian Gulf as a comprehensive program to head off a physical military conflict and protect the economies of countries including Australia, Japan and South Korea.

“What we’ve asked 60-plus nations to do is provide assistance in securing … the Strait of Hormuz so that commercial vessels can travel through there,” he told Sky News during a trip to Sydney for ministerial meetings.

“Australia could join in a number of ways. It’s a highly capable, sophisticated military. There are many assets it could deploy.”

Reynolds wouldn’t give a timeline on Australia’s decision, saying the proposal was under active consideration.

“We’re not going to take any sudden decisions. We are carefully considering what the request is from the United States,” she said.

“Australia, like so many others, is very reliant on traffic from the Strait of Hormuz. We are keen to ensure shipping can move through there quickly and also securely.”

Australia’s defence minister said it was in nobody’s interest to have a competitive US-China relationship becoming adversarial, as the strategic rivalry between the superpowers heats up.

“For Australia, it’s not a matter of choice between the United States or China,” Reynolds said.

“When it comes to China we have a strong and long-standing relationship and with the United States, they remain our strongest ally.”

-AAP

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