The U.S. Fifth Fleet said on Wednesday it will not allow any disruption of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, after Iran threatened to stop ships moving through the strategic oil route, as Tehran hinted it would find it “really easy” to close the world’s most important oil transit channel.
“The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity,” a spokesperson for the Bahrain-based fleet said in a written response to queries from Reuters about the possibility of Iran trying to close the waterway.
“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.”
Asked whether it was taking specific measures in response to the threat to close the Strait, the fleet said it “maintains a robust presence in the region to deter or counter destabilizing activities,” without providing further detail.
Iran’s navy chief, meanwhile, said Tehran would find it “really easy” to close the world’s most important oil transit channel, the Strait of Hormuz at the Gulf’s entrance, but would not do so right now.
“Shutting the strait for Iran’s armed forces is really easy -- or as we say (in Iran) easier than drinking a glass of water,” Admiral Habibollah Sayari said in an interview with Iran’s Press TV.
“But today, we don’t need (to shut) the strait because we have the Sea of Oman under control, and can control the transit,” he said.
Sayari was speaking a day after Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi threatened to close the strait if the West imposed more sanctions on Iran, and as Iran's navy held war games in international waters to the east of the channel.
World prices briefly climbed after Rahimi warned on Tuesday that “not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz” if the West broadened sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
“The enemies will only drop their plots when we put them back in their place,” the official news agency IRNA quoted Rahimi as saying.
More than a third of the world’s tanker-borne oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic choke point that links the Gulf -- and its petroleum-exporting states of Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- to the Indian Ocean.
The United States maintains a naval presence in the Gulf in large part to ensure that passage for oil remains free.
But Sayari asserted that the Strait of Hormuz “is completely under the control of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” according to AFP.
He said Iran's navy was constituted with the aim of being able to close the strait if necessary.
France reacted by calling on Iranian authorities to respect international law and allow unhindered passage of all ships through the strait.
“As with human rights and nuclear proliferation, we are calling on the Iranian authorities to respect international law and in particular the freedom to navigate in international waters and straits,” French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
“The Strait of Hormuz is an international strait. Therefore all ships, no matter what flag they fly, have the right of transit passage,” he said, according to AFP.
Sayari meanwhile said the navy maneuvers east of the strait were designed to show Gulf neighbors the power of Iran’s military over the zone.
Ships and aircraft dropped mines in the sea Tuesday as part of the drill, and on Wednesday drones flew out over the Indian Ocean, according to a navy spokesman, Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi.
Iran has several times said it is ready to target the strait if it is attacked or economically strangled by Western sanctions over its nuclear program.
An Iranian lawmaker’s comments last week that the navy exercises would block the Strait of Hormuz briefly sent oil prices soaring before that was denied by the government.
Tehran in September rejected a Washington call for a military hotline between the capitals to defuse any “miscalculations” that could occur between their navies in the Gulf.
In Washington, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner dismissed the latest threat from Iran’s vice president.
“I just think it’s another attempt by them to distract attention from the real issue, which is their continued non-compliance with their international nuclear obligations,” Toner told reporters.
The United States and other Western countries accuses Iran of using its uranium enrichment program to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges.
Extra U.S. and European sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil and financial sectors are being considered.
A European Union spokesman said Wednesday the bloc was pressing ahead with those plans regardless of Tehran’s threat.