Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations said closing the Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for about a fifth of the world’s oil trade, is an option if his country’s security is endangered.
“There is no decision to block and close the Strait of Hormuz unless Iran is threatened seriously and somebody wants to tighten the noose,” Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said on the Charlie Rose show, according to a transcript of the interview. “All the options are or would be on the table.”
U.S. and European efforts to tighten economic sanctions on Iran to deter its nuclear program have roiled oil markets and prompted concern a reduction in supply could hurt the global economy. Iran’s Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said Dec. 27 that his nation, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia, may close the strait in response to a stricter embargo.
“We believe that the Strait of Hormuz should be the strait of peace and stability,” Khazaee said. “But if foreign powers want to create trouble in the Persian Gulf, of course it would be the right of Iran as well as the rest of the countries in the region to try to defend themselves.”
The threat to block the strait came from “some military people in Iran” and not the government, Khazaee said. The official Islamic Republic News Agency last month cited Rahimi as threatening to halt oil shipments in the event of sanctions, following comments from Navy Commander Habibollah Sayari on Dec. 22 that the military has the capability to “control” access to the waterway.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a television interview that aired Jan. 8 that Iran can block the strait “for a period of time,” and the U.S. would take action to reopen it.
“We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that,” Dempsey said.
Crude oil for February delivery gained as much as $1.06 to $101.65 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and has risen 2.6 percent this year.
U.S. officials are currently in Asia as part of a push to get countries including Japan and South Korea to reduce their oil imports from Iran. Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, said in Tokyo yesterday that Japan, which counts on Iran for about 10 percent of its oil, agreed on the need to increase pressure on the Persian Gulf state to prevent nuclear weapons development.
Einhorn delivered a similar message in South Korea earlier this week. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner visited Tokyo and Beijing last week, with talks focused on Iran. Japanese officials including Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda have said cutting Iranian oil shipments must be done in a way to minimize the economic impact.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday in Doha, Qatar said his country “completely rejects” Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons while opposing any “extreme” actions in the Strait of Hormuz that would hurt global interests. Sanctions and threats against Iran are counterproductive and risk escalating tensions, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said today.
President Barack Obama last month signed legislation that tightens sanctions on the Persian Gulf state as part of efforts to cut off its main source of income and force the regime to abandon its nuclear development program. Iran is already under four rounds of United Nations sanctions as well as additional U.S. and European Union financial restrictions.
Japanese officials meeting with Einhorn today asked the U.S. to exempt the Asian nation’s banks from the law, which penalizes financial institutions doing business with Iran’s central bank, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity. The U.S. delegation indicated that the Obama administration will try to avoid hurting the Japanese economy in implementing the law, the official said.
European Union foreign ministers will meet on Jan. 23 to consider barring oil from Iran. Western nations say Iran’s nuclear work may be aimed at producing atomic weapons. Iran rejects the allegation, saying its atomic installations are for civilian purposes.
Khazaee said Iran was moving its enrichment process to more secure, underground facilities, because it was concerned by threats from U.S. and Israeli officials.
“It doesn’t mean that we are intending to do something illegal,” he said. Iranians “do not intend, and did not intend, and will not intend to have a weaponization program.”
Khazaee said it was unlikely Israel would try to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“There are enough wise politicians around the world to advise them in case if they want to do that not to do it,” he said. “So therefore, we don’t think that is going to happen.”