U.S. will respond if Iran blocks Strait of Hormuz: Panetta

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta answers a question during CBS's "Face the Nation" program in Washington January 6, 2012 in this handout picture released to Reuters January 8, 2012 REUTERS/Chris Usher/CBS News/Handout

WASHINGTON: The United States will respond if Iran tries to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday, saying such a move would cross a "red line."

"We made very clear that the United States will not tolerate the blocking of the Straits of Hormuz," Panetta told CBS television. "That's another red line for us and that we will respond to them."

Panetta was seconded by General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said Iran has the means to close the waterway, through which 20 percent of the world's oil passes.

"But we would take action and reopen the Straits," the general said on the same show, "Face the Nation."

Their comments follow Iranian threats to close the strait if the European Union goes through with an embargo on Iranian oil, the latest step to pressure Tehran to give up a nuclear program that the West suspects is aimed at gaining atomic weapons.

Earlier Sunday, an Iranian newspaper quoted senior commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guard as saying that Tehran's leadership has decided to order the closure of the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf if the country's oil exports are blocked.

According to AP, Khorasan daily reported that Ali Ashraf Nouri says the strategic decision has been made by Iran's top authorities.

The U.S. has recently enacted new sanctions targeting Iran's central bank and its ability to sell petroleum abroad over Tehran's nuclear program. Washington says Tehran is trying to develop weapons, while Iran denies the charges. -With AP





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