EU formally adopts Iran oil embargo as Iranian lawmakers ramp up Hormuz threats
Two Iranian lawmakers on Monday ramped up threats that their country would shutter the strategic Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for oil sanctions on Tehran -- a warning that comes one day after the USS Abraham Lincoln passed through the iconic waterway.
Lawmaker Mohammad Ismail Kowsari, deputy head of Iran's influential committee on national security, said the strait "would definitely be closed if the sale of Iranian oil is violated in any way."
Kowsari claimed that in case of the strait's closure, the U.S. and its allies would not be able to reopen the route, and warned America not to attempt any "military adventurism."
Iran has repeatedly warned it would choke off the strait if sanctions affect its oil sales. Another senior lawmaker, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, said Iran has the right to shutter Hormuz in retaliation for oil sanctions and that the closure was increasingly probable, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
"In case of threat, the closure of the Strait of Hormuz is one of Iran's rights," Falahatpisheh said. "So far, Iran has not used this privilege."
The warnings came as EU nations agreed in Brussels on an oil embargo against Iran as part of sanctions over the country's controversial nuclear program. The measure includes an immediate embargo on new contracts for Iranian crude and petroleum products while existing ones are allowed to run until July.
Some 80 percent of Iran's oil revenue comes from exports and any measures or sanctions taken that affect its ability to export oil could hit hard at its economy. With about 4 million barrels per day, Iran is the second largest producer in OPEC.
Israel's military confirmed earlier this month that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey traveled to the Mideast nation last week for talks as Israel's No. 2 public official suggested that President Obama is being meek about Iran ahead of the U.S. presidential election.
The content of the coming discussion between the U.S. general and Israel's top military commander was not stated, but Iran is first and foremost in Israel's mind as the Islamic Republic takes a step closer to going nuclear.
"There is very close cooperation between Israel, the Israeli military and the U.S. military, and General Dempsey is a close friend, and I'm sure that he and our chief of staff will have very serious discussions about all the options," former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Dan Gillerman said earlier this month.
Israel has grown antsy about Iran's nuclear program and has repeatedly hinted it might take military action if international sanctions fail to stop Iran's nuclear development, which is moving at a fast clip. Reports are that Iran will have 20 percent concentration of enriched uranium by next month. That level of enrichment is not used for energy production but toward weapons development.
The U.S. has imposed a series of economic sanctions against the regime, and U.S. officials -- as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- have suggested that the tough sanctions are starting to break down support for the regime.
Meanwhile, the US Navy on Sunday said the passage of its vessel through the Strait of Hormuz was "routine" and had been completed without incident.
"USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) completed a regular and routine transit of the Strait of Hormuz, Jan. 22, to conduct maritime security operations as scheduled and in support of requirements set by the combatant commander," a statement from Naval Forces Central Command said. "The transit was completed as previously scheduled and without incident."
The carrier was escorted by the guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George and two destroyers.
A British Royal Navy frigate and a French vessel also joined the carrier group in what was being seen as a show of strength directed at Tehran about the West's resolve to keep open the route into the Persian Gulf, which lies between Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
"Britain maintains a constant presence in the region as part of our enduring contribution to Gulf security," a British Ministry of Defense spokesman said. "Indeed, the Royal Navy has been conducting such patrols since 1980 and operating alongside coalition ships is business as usual.
"On this occasion HMS Argyll and a French vessel joined a US carrier group transiting through the Strait of Hormuz, to underline the unwavering international commitment to maintaining rights of passage under international law."
Iran has repeatedly warned that it could close the strait -- which the US Energy Information Administration calls the "most important chokepoint" for the world's oil tankers -- if increased Western sanctions halt Iranian oil exports.
The situation grew increasingly tense earlier this month when the Islamic republic's navy warned that it would react if the US tried to redeploy one of its aircraft carriers to the waterway.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the US would not tolerate Iran blocking the strategic route and would respond if Tehran crossed that "red line."
Since then, Iran has tried to ease tensions, with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi saying that Tehran had never tried to close the strait, AFP reported.
"We want peace and stability in the region," Salehi said.
The US, France, Britain and Germany have instigated sanctions after accusing Iran of seeking to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its nuclear drive is peaceful.
Newscore and The Associated Press contributed to this report.