US, allies urge Iran diplomacy as Pompeo seeks coalition
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it is "quite possible" that Iran was behind recent security incidents in the region POOL/AFP/File / Pavel Golovkin

The United States joined its Saudi, Emirati and British allies in urging a diplomatic solution to soaring tensions with Iran, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought Monday to build a coalition to step up surveillance.

Pompeo flew to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to meet their leaders days after Iran shot down a US spy drone, prompting President Donald Trump to order and then cancel a retaliatory strike.

In a joint statement, the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates renewed concern about Iran including over alleged attacks on oil tankers but held out hope for talks.

"We call on Iran to halt any further actions which threaten regional stability, and urge diplomatic solutions to de-escalate tensions," said the statement released by the United States on Monday.

Trump has said he wants negotiations with Iran, which has replied that he is insincere after walking away from an earlier denuclearization deal and slapping punishing sanctions.

Iran says the US drone violated its airspace, a charge that Washington denies. The United States has sought to end all of Iran's oil exports, one of a series of unilateral sanctions that Tehran has described as "economic terrorism".

US officials traveling with Pompeo cast the drone as a defensive push against Iran, which has in the past threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz, the chokepoint to the Gulf through which 20 percent of the world's oil flows.

"We have to build a coalition to prevent what the Iranians are doing in the Gulf, which is to inhibit or undermine the freedom of commerce and trade and freedom of navigation," an official told reporters as Pompeo flew from the Saudi port of Jeddah to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The coalition would provide "both material and financial" support "to have eyes on all the shipping", the official said.

Pompeo's trip comes as Trump, who often complains of other nations freeloading on the United States, called on Asian nations in particular to do more to ensure safe passage of oil from the Gulf.

The US official said that the coalition concept, which is in its infancy, could involve foreign militaries but that their task would be to observe, not to escort commercial ships.

"It's not about shooting at people. It's about shooting pictures of Iranians," the official said.

Pompeo met in Jeddah with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who last week was linked by a UN investigator to the killing and dismemberment of US-based dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi.

The US officials said they did not know if Pompeo raised the issue with Prince Mohammed.