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From Iran, new threats to close key oil route

July 2, 2012 |  6:56 pm

TEHRAN -- Iranian lawmakers renewed threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil-shipping route, in response to mounting economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The move -- widely regarded as more bluster than a credible threat -- came Monday, a day after Europe began to enforce an oil embargo. Iran responded with a fresh round of war games that will involve firing missiles at models of foreign air bases.

"If we completely go under the sanctions, we will not let a single oil drop pass through the Hormuz Strait," Arsala Fathipour, head of the Iranian parliament’s economic commission, told the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.

Situated between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz is a passageway for a sixth of the world's oil production, including much of the crude extracted in Saudi Arabia, Iran’s bitter regional rival.

The U.S. Navy is reported to be primed to thwart any attempt to block the strait.

Analysts downplay Iran’s periodic threats to close down the strait as political oratory, a view shared by some inside Iran.

"It's irrational rhetoric, and I think top officials in Iran are seeking diplomatic ways to solve the dispute," said one Iranian lawmaker who asked to remain anonymous.

The threat from "some adventurist politicians" should not be taken seriously, added Nader Karimi Joni, a Tehran-based analyst and columnist. Such comments, he said, do not originate from key decision-making blocs, such as the powerful Guardian Council or the supreme leader himself, who has the final say on all state matters.

But observers say the renewed tough talk reflects a pugnacious viewpoint that seems to have taken hold among certain hard-liners.

Iran has been subject to an escalating series of sanctions, many targeting its key oil sector. The moves are meant to pressure Tehran to pull back on its nuclear program. Washington and its allies suspect that Iran is trying to develop an atomic bomb. Tehran insists its program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out the possibility of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if the issue is not resolved through negotiation.

Iran has officially downplayed the effect of sanctions, but the Obama administration and others say the penalties are starting to batter Iran’s already shaky economy.

Despite the renewed threats on the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi sounded a conciliatory tone in comments published Monday.

"There is no solution but diplomatic and political settlement of [the] Iranian nuclear issue,” Salehi said in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency. “The issue may have come with ups and downs, but overall I believe that we are moving toward fixing the issue and the other side has no way but to follow mutual understanding with Iran."

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-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

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