Thursday 29 December 2011

Rhetoric from both sides

Noise Level Rises Over Iran Threat to Close Strait of Hormuz

New York Times, 28 December, 2011

Iran and the United States elevated the belligerent tone between them on Wednesday over an Iranian vow to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital Middle East waterway for oil tanker traffic, if Western powers attempted to make good on their threat to stifle Iran’s petroleum exports.

Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, Iran’s naval commander, said that “Iran has total control over the strategic waterway,” and that “Closing the Strait of Hormuz is very easy for Iranian naval forces,” in remarks carried by Press TV, an official Iranian news site. Admiral Sayyari, whose forces are in the midst of an ambitious war-games exercise in waters near the Strait of Hormuz, was the second top Iranian official to make such a threat in 24 hours.

Both the Defense Department and the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and patrols the Strait of Hormuz, responded to Admiral Sayyari’s remarks in statements that suggested American warships would stop the Iranians if necessary.

“The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity,” Lt. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the Fifth Fleet command in Manama, Bahrain, said in an emailed response. “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.”

The statement also said “The U.S. Navy is a flexible, multi-capable force committed to regional security and stability, always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation.”

George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, issued a similar warning, but he also pointed out that the Pentagon was “unaware of any aggressive or hostile action directed against U.S. ships” at this time.

France weighed in with a reaction to the Iranian threat as well, calling on Iran to respect international law regarding the strait, which is 21 miles wide at its narrowest point and separates Oman and Iran. Bernard Valero, a spokesman for France’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters at a regular news briefing: “The Strait of Hormuz is an international strait. As a result, all ships regardless of their nationality benefit from the right of transit in line with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and international maritime customs.”

On Tuesday, Iran’s vice president, Mohammad Reza-Rahimi, was the first top Iranian official to explicitly threaten to close the Strait, saying that if Western powers “impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.”

The catalyst for the Iranian threats are new efforts underway by the United States and European Union to pressure Iran into disbanding its nuclear program, which Iran has refused to do despite four rounds of sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.

Those sanctions have not targeted Iran’s oil exports, the world’s third largest. But in recent weeks, the European Union has talked openly of imposing a boycott on Iranian oil, and President Obama is preparing to sign legislation that, if fully enforced, could impose harsh penalties on all buyers of Iran’s oil, with the aim of severely impeding Iran’s ability to sell it. If successful, the measure would create onerous new pressure on the Iranian economy, which is already fraying from the accumulated effects of the other sanctions.

Iran has said its uranium enrichment is purely peaceful, but an International Atomic Energy Agency report issued last month suggested that Iran may be working on a nuclear weapon and a missile delivery system for it. The United States and its allies have said that a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable.

The Strait of Hormuz, with two mile-wide channels for commercial shipping, connects the Sea of Oman to the Persian Gulf, the principal loading point for oil shipped from Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter. The Strait carried 33 percent of all oil shipped by sea in 2009 and nearly 20 percent of all oil traded worldwide, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, which has called it the world’s most important “oil chokepoint.”

Markets seemed to shrug off Iran’s threats. On Wednesday, the price of the benchmark crude oil contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell for the first time in more than week and was trading at just below $100 a barrel at midday.
Iran to US: Stop leveling accusations
Press TV, 28 December, 2011

Addressing the citizens of Ilam on Wednesday, President Ahmadinejad reiterated that Iranians will not back down in the face of US expansionism. 

“Given the fact that you (the US) have worked against the Iranian nation for 32 years, what have you gained to make you keep pressuring the Iranian nation through various means?” he added. 

Ahmadinejad further pointed to the latest developments, saying that Western powers have used some regional regimes as tools to topple other governments in the region. 

The Iranian president said the US and its allies have always deceived their hypothetical friends, adding that they are currently exerting pressure on certain regional countries by spending large sums of money on propaganda campaigns. 

He said the ridiculous point is that a group consisting of the heads of the states that lack democracy, freedom and election, gather together to issue resolutions against another country and call for democratic elections in that country. 

President Ahmadinejad advised regional countries to open their eyes and realize that if the enemy is currently using you "to mount pressure on other governments, it will be your turn next.” 

“If you (certain regional states) think that by giving oil money to Europe and the US, buying weapons and giving those weapons to the opposition groups of other regional states, the US and its allies may take pity on you, you are mistaken,” he added.

From al-Jazeera -

Iran to 'block' Gulf oil if sanctions proceed

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