WASHINGTON - The United States will hold Tehran directly responsible for any attempt to disrupt shipping in oil-rich Gulf region and will be able to defeat any Iranian attempt to shut down sea-borne commerce, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday.

"The Iranians need to understand that the United States and the international community are going to hold them directly responsible for any disruption of shipping in that region, by Iran or for that matter by its surrogates," Panetta told a news conference at the Pentagon.

"The United States is fully prepared for all contingencies here," he added. "We've invested in capabilities to ensure that the Iranian attempt to close down shipping in the Gulf is something that we are going to be able to defeat, if they make a decision to do that."

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