Iran says it doesn’t want to blockade the Strait of Hormuz

The key Gulf oil shipping lane is the focus of global tensions.

Zarif - getty
Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Britain of piracy over the seizing of an Iranian vessel [Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

Iran is capable of shutting the Strait of Hormuz – a crucial choke-point for oil flows – but doesn’t want to do it, the country’s foreign minister said.

“We certainly have the ability to do it, but we certainly don’t want to do it because the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf are our lifeline,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg Television in New York. “It has to be secured. We play a big role in securing it, but it has to be secure for everybody.”

About one-third of the world’s seaborne crude and fuels passed through the Strait of Hormuz last year, highlighting its key role in global oil markets. In May and June, six tankers were attacked in the region. While Iran has been blamed for attacks on merchant shipping, it has denied responsibility.

“It’s dangerous because it is very crowded,” Zarif said, adding that the last time the area was this crowded, the U.S. shot down an Iranian plane with 290 passengers in 1988. “We feel the danger and that is why we want to avoid a dangerous escalation, but we cannot give up defending our country.”

Last week, the British Navy intervened to stop Iran from blocking a BP Plc oil tanker, a confrontation that occurred after British forces helped seize a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the southern tip of Spain on July 4. The U.K. says the ship was stopped as it was suspected of breaching European Union sanctions against Syria. Iran says it wasn’t headed to Syria.

Iranian officials contend that the U.K. was goaded by the U.S. to seize the vessel in order to increase heat on the Islamic Republic. Britain had no legal grounds to take such action, according to Zarif.

“There are no EU sanctions that are applicable to non-EU member states; the EU, unlike the U.S., doesn’t impose its sanctions on third parties,” the minister said. “We were selling our oil. There were no UN sanctions on Iranian oil. Nobody has the right to confiscate that ship. So it;s piracy, pure and simple.”

U.S. Central Command has been working on a plan to deter threats in the area and a strategy to safeguard shipping lanes will be unveiled at a joint briefing with the Defense Department on Friday, Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, said at an event on Tuesday. He cautioned that any effort would need the support of other nations to be successful.

Geopolitical tensions in the region have escalated since the U.S. stepped up sanctions against the Islamic Republic over the last few months.

A small oil tanker that had gone missing in the Persian Gulf had technical difficulties and was towed into Iranian waters for repairs, an Iranian Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.

Source: Bloomberg