The European Union says it will go ahead with plans to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. This comes as Tehran again threatens to close a waterway through which much of the world's oil passes.
The European Union says it is still planning to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program despite Tehran's threats to close a strategic oil route in response.
"The European Union is considering another set of sanctions against Iran and we continue to do that," the spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Michael Mann, told the AFP news agency.
He added that the decision would be taken in time for the next meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on January 30.
Threats from Tehran
In response to the threat of sanctions, Iran has for a second time warned that it might close the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
Iran's navy chief, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari told state-run Press TV that it would be easy for the Iranian navy to close the strait.
US naval ships patrol the strait
"Iran has comprehensive control over the strategic waterway," he said.
On Tuesday, Vice President Mohamed Reza Rahimi also threatened to close the strait and cut off oil exports.
He warned that "not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz" if the West introduces new sanctions.
More than a third of the world's tanker-borne oil is transported via the strait. It links the Persian Gulf, with its petroleum-exporting states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to the Indian Ocean.
International right of passage
In the wake of Tehran's threats, France has called on the Iranian authorities to respect international law and navigation rights.
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said, "The Strait of Hormuz is an international strait. Therefore all ships, no matter what flag they fly, have the right of transit passage."
The United States Fifth Fleet has told Reuters news agency it will not tolerate any disruption to traffic in the strait. The US maintains a navy presence in the Gulf largely to ensure that oil can pass freely.
Western fears over nuclear program
The sanctions being considered by the EU as well as the US would be aimed at Iran's oil and financial sectors.
The West fears that Iran may be building atomic weapons at its nuclear sites
EU governments are only divided over whether to impose an embargo on Iranian crude oil.
In 2010, Iran was the fifth-largest exporter to the EU after Russia, Norway, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Iran relies on oil exports for about 80 percent of its public revenues.
A senior Saudi oil official has said Gulf Arab nations were ready to offset any potential loss of Iranian crude in the world markets.
Western nations have accused Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for developing nuclear weapons. Iran has denied the charges.
Author: Timothy Jones (Reuters, AP, AFP)
Editor: Matt Zuvela