Iran intensifies war of words with US over threat to close oil shipping lane |
Iran intensifies war of words with U.S. over threat to close oil shipping lane following nuclear arms row
A war of words broke out between Washington and Tehran last night after the Iranians threatened to choke off one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.
Tensions rose after Iran’s top naval commander bragged that shutting down the Gulf to oil tankers would be ‘easier than drinking a glass of water.’
The implied threat triggered an angry response from the US Fifth Fleet, which warned it would not allow any disruption in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz – through which 40 per cent of the world’s tanker-borne oil passes.
Tensions: A military helicopter flies over a submarine during the Velayat-90 war games by the Iranian navy in the Strait of Hormuz today
‘Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated,’ said a spokesperson for the Bahrain-based fleet.
‘The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity,’ the statement added.
Britain dismissed the Iranian boasts as an attempt to draw attention from its nuclear ambitions.
Playing down the threat, a Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘Iranian politicians regularly use this type of rhetoric to distract attention from the real issue, which is the nature of their nuclear programme.’
Military personnel place an Iranian flag on a submarine in the Strat of Hormuz, as tensions escalate over the country’s apparent design of nuclear weapons
Lookout: A submarine performs naval maneuvers on the Sea of Oman during naval exercises in international waters
Tehran warned a week ago it would shut down the strategically vital shipping lane if the West took tougher action against Iran.
Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said Iran wouldn’t allow ‘a drop of oil’ to pass through the strait if sanctions were widened.
The row ratcheted up another notch yesterday after Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, head of the Iranian navy, declared that ‘closing the Strait of Hormuz for Iran’ s armed forces is really easy – or as Iranians say it will be easier than drinking a glass of water.’
Whilst naval chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari told state-run Press TV: ‘Iran has comprehensive control over the strategic waterway.’
The comments drew a quick response from the U.S, with Pentagon press secretary George Little saying: ‘This is not just an important issue for security and stability in the region, but is an economic lifeline for countries in the Gulf, to include Iran.’
Threat: An Iranian politician claims the country’s military is preparing to close off the Strait of Hormuz – the most important oil transport channel in the world
Western tensions with Iran have increased since a U.N report claimed last month that Tehran appears to have worked on designing an atomic bomb.
Iran strongly denies this and insists it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
The possibility of imposing sanctions on Iran has divided U.N nations.
Iran has defiantly expanded nuclear activity despite four rounds of U.N. sanctions meted out since 2006 over its refusal to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment.
Parviz Sarvari, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security Committee, said Iran was preparing to close off the Strait as part of an exercise
Many diplomats believe only sanctions targeting Iran’s lifeblood oil sector might be painful enough to make it change course, but Russia and China – big trade partners of Tehran – have blocked such a move at the United Nations.
Iran this week repeated the warning it issued earlier this month, stating that should sanction be imposed it will cut off oil access through the Strait of Hormuz – the world’s fourth biggest oil shipping lane.
However, the U.S. State Department has since dismissed Iran’s threats by describing them as having ‘an element of bluster’.
According to official Iranian news agency IRNA, Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned this week: ‘If they (the West) impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.’
But Mark Toner, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, responded: ‘It’s another attempt to distract attention away from the real issue, which is their continued non-compliance with their international nuclear obligations.’
Rahimi’s remarks coincided with a 10-day Iranian naval exercise in the Strait and nearby waters, a show of military force that began on Saturday.
‘Our enemies will give up on their plots against Iran only if we give them a firm and strong lesson,’ Rahimi said.
Important: Around a third of the world’s shipped oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz
Around a third of all shipped oil passes through the four mile-wide Strait between Oman and Iran and U.S. warships patrol the area to ensure safe passage.
Former U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney said President Obama should have ordered an airstrike over Iran after their refusal to hand back the unmanned spy plane that crashed last month
Most of the crude exported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq – together with nearly all the liquefied natural gas from lead exporter Qatar is transported through the channel.
After a news agency mistakenly reported the straight had already been closed, crude oil prices leapt by almost $2 to $100.45/per barrel, but they later stabilised.
Last month, Iran’s energy minister told Al Jazeera that Tehran could use oil as a political tool in the event of any future conflict over its nuclear program.
Tensions over the program have increased since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on November 8 that Tehran appears to have worked on designing a nuclear bomb and may still be pursuing research to that end.
Iran has warned it will respond to any attack by hitting Israel and U.S. interests in the Gulf and analysts say one way to retaliate would be to close the Strait of Hormuz.
Last month former U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney said President Obama should have ordered an airstrike over Iran after their refusal to hand back the unmanned spyplane that crashed in November.
During a White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Mr Obama said: ‘We have asked for it back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond.’
But Mr Cheney told CNN: ‘The right response would have been to go in immediately after it had gone down and destroy it.
Boast: Officials in Iran claim they can ‘mass produce’ the captured RQ-170 Sentinel drone and build a ‘superior’ version following its crash on December 4
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