February 1, 2011 / 8:44 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. sees Suez Canal closure as inconceivable

LONDON (Reuters) - The United States would respond “diplomatically, economically, militarily” to any closure of the Suez Canal although such an event seems inconceivable, the head of U.S. Central Command said on Tuesday.

Egyptians watch as the Queen Mary 2 crosses the Suez Canal in Ismailia, north of Cairo, March 28, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

Gen. James Mattis, who oversees U.S. military operations in an area stretching from Egypt to Pakistan, also said the United States had no plans to re-order its military forces in the region because of instability in North Africa.

“When you look at the fiscal impact of that (closing the Suez canal) on whoever is in a position of authority in Egypt, I just can’t imagine the motive to shut that down,” Mattis said at a London event hosted by the Policy Exxchange think tank.

He had been asked if the United States would be prepared to act if there were any disruptions to the key shipping channel because of mass protests in Egypt against the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

“Were it to happen obviously we would have to deal with it diplomatically, economically, militarily, whatever, but that to me is hypothetical and I would defer to the political leaders,” he said.

Mubarak, 82, said on Tuesday he would step down in a few months after at least a million people took to the streets, calling for him to quit.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Mattis as new head of Central Command last August, replacing General David Petraeus, who took command of the U.S. and NATO force in Afghanistan.

Asked if the United States had any plans to re-order its forces or ships in the region because of the troubles in North Africa, Mattis said “the short answer is no.”

“These issues do not call for a military solution right now. There’s no reason right now for any shift in military forces or anything like that. I’ve not received any orders. I’ve not requested or directed anything like that,” he said.

Brent oil prices rose on Tuesday, pushing above $102 a barrel as disruptions at Egyptian ports and Jordan’s government shake-up kept concerns about unrest in the region and the potential for oil supply interruptions in focus.

Egypt controls two major oil transit points, the Suez canal and the SUMED pipeline, that brings oil from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. These have not been affected by the protests, but the disruptions at the ports to the west highlighted the potential for problems.

Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Peter Griffiths and Elizabeth Fullerton

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