US WARNS IRAN NOT TO DISRUPT OIL ROUTE

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet is warning Iran that any disruption of traffic flowing though the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil route, “will not be tolerated.”

Iran’s navy chief warned earlier Wednesday that the Islamic Republic was ready and willing to close the strategic waterway if the West imposes news sanctions targeting Tehran’s oil exports over the country’s suspect nuclear program.

“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 Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Rebecca Rebarich.

She said the U.S. Navy is “always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation.”

Iran’s navy chief warned Wednesday that his country can easily close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the passageway through which a sixth of the world’s oil flows.

It was the second such warning in two days. On Tuesday, Vice President Mohamed Reza Rahimi threatened to close the strait, cutting off oil exports, if the West imposes sanctions on Iran’s oil shipments.

With concern growing over a possible drop-off in Iranian oil supplies, a senior Saudi oil official said Gulf Arab nations are ready to offset any loss of Iranian crude.

That reassurance led to a drop in world oil prices. In New York, benchmark crude fell 77 cents to $100.57 a barrel in morning trading. Brent crude fell 82 cents to $108.45 a barrel in London.

“Closing the Strait of Hormuz is very easy for Iranian naval forces,” Adm. Habibollah Sayyari told state-run Press TV. “Iran has comprehensive control over the strategic waterway,” the navy chief said.

The threats underline Iranian concern that the West is about to impose new sanctions that could target Tehran’s vital oil industry and exports.

Western nations are growing increasingly impatient with Iran over its nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies have accused Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has denied the charges, saying its program is geared toward generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.

The U.S. Congress has passed a bill banning dealings with the Iran Central Bank, and President Barack Obama has said he will sign it despite his misgivings. Critics warn it could impose hardships on U.S. allies and drive up oil prices.

The bill could impose penalties on foreign firms that do business with Iran’s central bank. European and Asian nations import Iranian oil and use its central bank for the transactions.

Iran is the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, with an output of about 4 million barrels of oil a day. It relies on oil exports for about 80 percent of its public revenues.

Iran has adopted an aggressive military posture in recent months in response to increasing threats from the U.S. and Israel that they may take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

The navy is in the midst of a 10-day drill in international waters near the strategic oil route. The exercises began Saturday and involve submarines, missile drills, torpedoes and drones. The war games cover a 1,250-mile (2,000-kilometer) stretch of sea off the Strait of Hormuz, northern parts of the Indian Ocean and into the Gulf of Aden near the entrance to the Red Sea as a show of strength and could bring Iranian ships into proximity with U.S. Navy vessels in the area.

Iranian media are describing how Iran could move to close the strait, saying the country would use a combination of warships, submarines, speed boats, anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes, surface-to-sea missiles and drones to stop ships from sailing through the narrow waterway.

Iran’s navy claims it has sonar-evading submarines designed for shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, enabling it to hit passing enemy vessels.

A closure of the strait could temporarily cut off some oil supplies and force shippers to take longer, more expensive routes that would drive oil prices higher. It also potentially opens the door for a military confrontation that would further rattle global oil markets.

Iran claimed a victory this month when it captured an American surveillance drone almost intact. It went public with its possession of the RQ-170 Sentinel to trumpet the downing as a feat of Iran’s military in a complicated technological and intelligence battle with the U.S.

American officials have said that U.S. intelligence assessments indicate the drone malfunctioned.

 

RELATED–

 

Iran official: U.S. cannot stop us from cutting off world oil supply

U.S. military indicates it will not allow Tehran to close off Strait of Hormuz, after Tehran threatens to do so in case of western sanctions on its oil sector.

Haaretz

The United States is in no position to advise Iran against cutting global oil supply in case of sanctions against its petroleum industry, a top Iranian commander said on Thursday.

Want to know more about Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West? Sign up to Haaretz.com’s official Facebook page

The comment by deputy chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Hossein Salami came after the U.S. Fifth Fleet said on Wednesday it will not allow any disruption of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway in the distribution of worldwide oil supply.

“The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity,” said in a written response to queries from Reuters about the possibility of Iran trying to close the Strait.

Responding to the remark by U.S. forces on Thursday, Salami told Iranian state television Press TV that the “Islamic Republic of Iran asks for no other country’s permission for the implementation of its defense strategies.”

According to the Press TV report, the senior Iranian military official indicated that the U.S. was not in a position to give Iran permission to close the strategic waterway, adding that U.S. pressure had failed to prevent Iranian action on other issues in the past.

The U.S. navy’s comments on Wednesday came a day after Iran’s first vice-president warned on Tuesday that the flow of crude will be stopped from the crucial Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if foreign sanctions are imposed on its oil exports, the country’s official news agency reported.

“If they (the West) impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz,” IRNA quoted Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying.

About a third of all sea-borne oil was shipped through the Strait in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), and U.S. warships patrol the area to ensure safe passage.

Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program have increased since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on Nov. 8 that Tehran appears to have worked on designing a nuclear bomb and may still be pursuing research to that end. Iran strongly denies this and says it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

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.

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 – must slip through a 4-mile (6.4 km) wide shipping channel between Oman and Iran.

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