The United States used a secret diplomatic channel to tell Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneni that closing the Strait of Hormuz would constitute crossing a "red line," The New York Times reported Friday.

What Washington's response to an Iranian breach of its red lines remained unclear.

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US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey said Sunday that while Iran has the ability to block the Strait of Hormuz “for a period of time,”  the US would take action to reopen it in such an event.

“They’ve invested in capabilities that could, in fact, for a period of time block the Strait of Hormuz,” Dempsey said in an interview airing on the CBS “Face the Nation” program. “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that.”


Should Iran try to close Hormuz, the US “would take action and reopen” the waterway, said Dempsey, US President Barack Obama’s top military adviser.

Blocking the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic shipping lane linking the Gulf of Oman with the Persian Gulf, would constitute a “red line” for the US, as would Iranian efforts to build a nuclear weapon, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on the same program.

Continued pressure, rather than threats of air strikes, is the best way to forestall Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Panetta said.

US plans in case of Israeli strike

Should Israel decide to undertake a unilateral military strike against Iran, the US priority would be protecting American troops in the region, Panetta said.

Dempsey and Panetta sought on CBS to provide assurances that the new US military strategy, announced last week, won’t limit the US ability to stop aggressors.

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“What we’re looking to do here is not constrain ourselves to a two-war construct, but rather build a force that has the kind of agility” needed to adapt to any scenario, Dempsey said. Previous US war planning called for preparing to fight two conventional wars simultaneously.

The plan was driven by the need to cut almost $490 billion from projected Pentagon spending through 2021, including about $261 billion through 2017. Panetta said last week the details won’t be released until the Pentagon presents its 2013 budget request to Congress by early February.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.


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