Iranians Renew Threats to Close Key Oil Route After E.U. Embargo Decision

By Patrick Goodenough | January 24, 2012 | 5:13am EST

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Arabian Sea late last week shortly before sailing through the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz on Sunday. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Will Tyndall)

(CNSNews.com) – Just days after Iran appeared to be backing away from a warning that it would close a strategic Persian Gulf waterway, two senior Iranian lawmakers renewed the threat, following a European Union decision Monday to impose an oil embargo on the Islamic republic.

Oil markets responded by pushing the price of benchmark crude oil above $99 a barrel in New York, while Brent crude rose in London to $110.80 a barrel.

Mohammad Kowsari, deputy chairman of the parliament’s security and foreign policy committee, said Iran would “definitely” close the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz should the sale of Iranian crude oil be disrupted.

In the event of any resulting U.S. “military adventurism” in the strait, state-funded Press TV quoted him as warning, Iran would respond in a way that would make the entire world unsafe for Americans.

Another senior lawmaker, Heshmatollah Falahapisheh, was quoted by the Mehr news agency as saying closure of Hormuz was an Iranian right in the case of threat, and was looking increasingly possible.

According to the U.S. Energy Department, about one-fifth of the world’s crude transits the waterway between Iran and Oman. The strait is less than 30 miles wide at its narrowest point and its shipping lanes, one for tanker traffic in each direction, are a mere two miles across.

The Iranian lawmakers were speaking after European Union foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels agreed to impose an immediate embargo on new contracts for Iranian oil, and an embargo on all existing contracts with effect from July.

The punitive measures are the latest in a series of E.U. and U.S. sanctions, including measures targeting Iran’s Central Bank, in response to nuclear programs which the West suspects are being used to develop technologies for nuclear weapons.

“Taken in combination with the many other sanctions on Iran that continue to be implemented by the United States and the international community, this new, concerted pressure will sharpen the choice for Iran's leaders and increase their cost of defiance of basic international obligations,” the State Department said in a statement welcoming the E.U. decision.

On Saturday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy said it plans to go ahead with new war games in the Gulf and Hormuz, scheduled for sometime during the current Persian month of Bahman, which runs through mid-February.

While confirming the exercise, however, IRGC deputy Hossein Salami suggested a softening approach to the presence of U.S. naval ships in the Gulf, saying recent movements could be viewed as part of their ongoing presence there for many years.

Earlier this month, after the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and accompanying vessels sailed through the Strait of Hormuz in what the Pentagon called a “pre-planned, routine transit,” Iranian army chief Maj. Gen. Ataollah Salehi had warned the carrier not return to the Gulf, saying, “We are not in the habit of warning more than once.”

On Sunday, the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln sailed through Hormuz – “without incident,” in the words of White House press secretary Jay Carney, who added that the transit was “part of our regularly scheduled movements, undertaken in accordance with our long-standing commitments to the security and stability of the region.”

‘Bitter fruits’

Iran is OPEC’s second largest crude producer. Its foreign ministry in a statement Monday night warned that the E.U. decision would produce “bitter fruits” not only for European nations but also for others.

The ministry said it reminded “leaders of the western countries that any confrontation move against the independence and advancement of the independent countries would lead to further complication of the present day world crises.”

Separately, Iran’s oil ministry said the E.U. sanctions would “have a negative effect on the world economy and especially on recovering European economies which are fighting to overcome the global financial crisis.”

Noting that only 18 percent of Iran’s oil goes to European countries, the ministry said Iran would easily replace the European markets with others.

The official IRNA news agency said about 35 percent of Iran’s exports currently go to China and India, adding that Iran expects to be able to continue selling its oil to those two countries and others in Asia.

The Fars news agency, meanwhile, reported that among Iran’s other big non-E.U. customers are Sri Lanka, which it said gets 100 percent of its oil requirements from Iran, Turkey (51 percent) and South Africa (25 percent).

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday called the new E.U. sanctions counterproductive but pledged to continue Moscow’s efforts to get long-stalled negotiations between Iran and six major powers to resume.

E.U.-led talks aimed at resolving the standoff have gone on and off since 2003, with little tangible progress.

In a report last November the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the first time publicly charged Iran with developing the technologies used to develop nuclear weapons.

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