The U.S. military on Thursday vowed to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf after Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tankers.
The U.S. Navy and Washington’s regional allies “stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows”, Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command, was quoted as saying.
On Wednesday, Ismail Kuthari, vice-commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (RGC), threatened to block the passage of oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. attempted to degrade his country’s ability to export oil.
Qasem Soleimani, commander of the RGC’s elite Quds Force, meanwhile, was quoted by Iranian media outlets as saying he was “ready to carry out any orders”.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department announced its intention to reduce Iranian oil revenue to zero.
“We have been clear with countries and companies around the world that we are bringing severe economic pressure on Iran until the regime changes its destabilizing policies,” Brian Hook, senior policy advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said.
One day later, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that if Iranian oil exports were impeded by the U.S., those of the region’s other oil-producers would suffer a similar fate.
“The Americans say they want to halt Iran's oil exports, but they don't understand the implications of this,” Rouhani said, according to a statement released by his office.
In what appeared to be a veiled threat to other regional oil-producers, he added: “It's meaningless that Iran's oil cannot be exported while [the] region's oil is.”
Rouhani went on to assert that the U.S. would “bear the consequences” in the event that his country’s oil exports were adversely affected.
According to OPEC, Iran's crude oil production stood at some 3.8 million barrels per day in May, of which some 2 million barrels were exported.
Tension between Washington and Tehran has mounted since May, when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany).
The 2015 deal places strict restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.