Saturday , March 11, 2006
TEHRAN, Iran —Iran threatened Saturday to use oil as a weapon if the U.N. Security Council imposes sanctions over its nuclear program.
The nation's interior minister raised the possibility of using Iran's own oil and gas supplies and its position on a vital Persian Gulf oil route as weapons in the international standoff.
"If (they) politicize our nuclear case, we will use any means. We are rich in energy resources. We have control over the biggest and the most sensitive energy route of the world," Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Iran is the No. 2 producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and has partial control over the narrow Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf. The strait is an essential passage for crude oil from key producers such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.
Pourmohammadi's statements were the most specific yet — and the first explicitly targeting oil — in a series of threats levied by Iranian officials as the Security Council discusses what action to take over Iran's nuclear program. Washington says Iran wants to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies that claim, saying it intends only to generate electricity.
"No means (for reprisals) will be ignored and we will not disregard any means," said Pourmohammadi, who warned from the sideline of a Tehran city ceremony that Iran's critics could be underestimating his country's ability to strike back if sanctions are imposed.
"If they want to try other options, they have to be sure that our potential is not less than theirs," he said.
Iran's hard-line president warned Thursday that the West will suffer more than his country if it tries to block Tehran's nuclear ambitions. The top Iranian delegate to the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said a day earlier that the United States will face "harm and pain" if the Security Council becomes involved.
Some diplomats saw the comments as veiled threats to use oil as a weapon, though Iran's oil minister ruled out any decrease in production. Iran also has leverage with extremist groups in the Middle East that could harm U.S. interests.
About 90 percent of the oil exported from the Gulf in recent years passed through the Strait of Hormuz, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.
Closure of the strait would require more costly shipping of oil and natural gas by pipeline across Saudi Arabia, according to the agency's Web site.
The five veto-holding members of the Security Council — Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China — were considering proposals Friday to pressure Iran to resolve questions about its nuclear program, including demands that it abandon uranium enrichment and stop construction on a reactor, diplomats said.
Enrichment can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for an atomic bomb.
Britain, France and the United States are seeking a tough statement aimed at pressuring Iran. Russia indicated it was uncomfortable with significant action, fearful that Iran could spurn negotiations entirely. China is believed to side with Russia.
Former Israeli military chief Moshe Yaalon said Thursday that Israel and the West have the ability to launch a military strike that could set back Iran's nuclear program for years. Yaalon was widely criticized for the remarks, with some saying he was drawing unnecessary attention to Israel's capabilities.
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Saturday that Israel remains part of an international coalition against a nuclear Iran, suggesting Israel would not act alone against Tehran.
Also Saturday, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted an unnamed Russian official as saying Iran's refusal to restore a moratorium on enrichment has made a compromise offer to host the Iranian uranium enrichment program impossible.
In an attempt to stave off sanctions against Iran, Moscow had proposed a joint venture to conduct Tehran's enrichment on Russian territory, an offer backed by both the U.S. and the European Union as a way to prevent Iran from diverting enriched uranium to a weapons program.
Talks on the proposal stalled over Iran's insistence on maintaining some domestic enrichment activity.