WASHINGTON â€” A senior Iranian official on Tuesday delivered a sharp threat in response to economic sanctions being readied by the United States, saying his country would retaliate against any crackdown by blocking all oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital artery for transporting about one-fifth of the worldâ€™s oil supply.
The declaration byÂ Iranâ€™s first vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, came asÂ President ObamaÂ prepares to sign legislation that, if fully implemented, could substantially reduce Iranâ€™s oil revenue in a bid to deter it from pursuing aÂ nuclear weaponsÂ program.
Prior to the latest move, the administration had been laying the groundwork to attempt to cut off Iran from global energy markets without raising the price of gasoline or alienating some of Washingtonâ€™s closest allies.
Apparently fearful of the expanded sanctionsâ€™ possible impact on the already-stressed economy of Iran, the worldâ€™s third-largest energy exporter, Mr. Rahimi said, â€œIf they impose sanctions on Iranâ€™s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz,â€ according to Iranâ€™s official news agency. Iran just began a 10-day naval exercise in the area.
In recent interviews, Obama administration officials have said that the United States has developed a plan to keep the strait open in the event of a crisis. In Hawaii, where President Obama is vacationing, a White House spokesman said there would be no comment on the Iranian threat to close the strait. That seemed in keeping with what administration officials say has been an effort to lower the level of angry exchanges, partly to avoid giving the Iranian government the satisfaction of a response and partly to avoid spooking financial markets.
But the energy sanctions carry the risk of confrontation, as well as economic disruption, given the unpredictability of the Iranian response. Some administration officials believe that a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States â€” which Washington alleges received funding from the Quds Force, part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps â€” was in response to American and other international sanctions.
Merely uttering the threat appeared to be part of an Iranian effort to demonstrate its ability to cause a spike in oil prices, thus slowing the United States economy, and to warn American trading partners that joining the new sanctions, which the Senate passed by a rare 100-0 vote, would come at a high cost.
Oil prices rose above $100 a barrel in trading after the threat was issued, though it was unclear how much that could be attributed to investorsâ€™ concern that confrontation in the Persian Gulf could disrupt oil flows.