Iran Receives Letter From U.S. on Strait of Hormuz, May Respond, IRNA Says

Iran acknowledged receipt of a letter from the U.S. concerning the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway that the Mideast nation has threatened to close, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast.

Iran is studying the document, which was delivered by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and will respond if “deemed necessary,” IRNA said. Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, gave a copy of the letter to Iran’s UN representative and another copy was delivered to the Iranian government by Switzerland’s ambassador to Tehran, Leu Agosti, IRNA said.

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s biggest choke point for traded seaborne oil, if sanctions against purchases of its oil are imposed over its nuclear program. Western countries allege that Iran’s nuclear- development plans are aimed at building atomic weapons. Iran says they are for civilian purposes and to generate electricity.

“I’m not going to get into the details of those communications or mechanisms,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in response to an e-mail. Reinforcing what White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Jan. 13, Vietor said messages delivered to Iran’s leaders privately “would be the same as what we’ve said publicly.”

Free Flow

The U.S. and other big oil importers “have a strong interest in the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation in all international waterways,” Vietor said, adding that those views have been communicated to Iran.

President Barack Obama “is willing to engage constructively and seriously with Iran” about its nuclear program, but he stressed it must live up to its international obligations, Vietor said. Obama remains “committed to a diplomatic solution to this issue if Iran is willing to move in a different direction,” he said.

European Union foreign ministers will meet on Jan. 23 to consider barring purchases of oil from Iran, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia. Should the bloc approve an embargo, its 27 member states would be prohibited from concluding new oil contracts with Iran or renewing any that are due to expire, an EU diplomat with knowledge of the talks said on Jan. 13.

Iran’s OPEC Governor Mohammad-Ali Khatibi called on Arab neighbors not to support any European embargo on Iranian oil by increasing crude supplies to replace the lost Iranian output, Tehran-based newspaper Shargh reported today.

The recent visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Tehran had nothing to do with the U.S. letter, IRNA said.

Vietor declined to comment on a report by Israel Radio that said a joint U.S.-Israel military exercise that was to be the biggest ever between the two countries has been postponed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Tuttle in Doha at rtuttle@bloomberg.net Roger Runningen in Washington, at rrunningen@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Digby Lidstone at dlidstone@bloomberg.net

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