Iranian Diplomat: “we don’t have the intention to close the Strait of Hormuz”

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February 5, 2012

PARIS (Dow Jones)–Iran has no intention of blockading the Strait of Hormuz, the sea route through which about a fifth of the world’s oil is shipped, a senior Iranian diplomat said Friday, downplaying threats by others in Tehran.

The remarks by Ali Ahani, Iran’s ambassador to France, are in contrast with threats to close the Strait over the past six weeks that have come from legislators and some members of the country’s Revolutionary Guard. Ahani’s remarks suggest the country’s highest authorities are not backing these threats, which could dampen oil prices that have recently risen on fears of supply disruptions.

Ahani said “we don’t have the intention to close the Strait of Hormuz…That’s our official position.”

He added “our interest demands the free circulation of vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.”

Ahani, a seasoned diplomat, was until December the country’s deputy foreign affairs minister in charge of Europe and America.

Threats to close the Strait, just 34 miles wide at its narrowest point, came after the U.S. and its allies turned up the heat on Iran to provide more information on its nuclear program, which it says is peaceful. Western nations have boosted their naval presence in the area, led by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

The diplomat spoke just before Iranian state media said Saturday the Revolutionary Guard was starting a month of planned maneuvers near the Strait. Ahani said Iran’s military exercises in the area are to “guarantee the security of this strait.”

But the official’s reassurances on the Strait of Hormuz also came with warnings Islamic groups would retaliate against any Israeli military strike on Iran and that an escalation of sanctions could inflame tensions in the Gulf. Asked how Iran would respond if attacked by Israel, the diplomat said “I don’t think the Zionist regime will go in this direction of madness. This could accelerate their collapse.”

As a possible reaction, “there is the solidarity of Muslim people, of Islamic groups who won’t let it happen without response, who will react,” he added. Though he didn’t elaborate on which Islamic groups he was referring to, Hezbollah, a key Iranian ally, has built a significant arsenal of missiles that could strike Israel from Lebanon.

“The Zionist regime and its allies must face the consequences” if Iran is attacked, the ambassador said, without naming the allies.

Ahani also said sanctions against Iran, far from being a way to avoid a military strike, “will aggravate tensions in the region.” Saudi Arabia has pledged to make up for any shortage that could arise from a planned European boycott of Iranian oil.

“There is political pressure on Arab states in this direction” of helping sanctions’ efforts by increasing production, Ahani said. But helping the embargo would be against Saudi Arabia’s long-term interest, he said.

“The implications of these sanctions can have terrible effects of the price of oil” by creating volatility in the oil price. He said an escalation of U.S. sanctions could also contribute to further tensions.

The Senate Banking Committee passed a bill Thursday that could lead to new sanctions and would complicate international dealings with Iran’s central bank.

The U.S. “could cross red lines,” the diplomat said. “If they continue, they will have to assume their responsibilities.”

(c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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