'US won't let Iran close the Hormuz Strait'

Navy commander: Closing strategic passage would mean 40% of world oil being "held hostage" by Iran.

Hormuz Strait 88 (photo credit: )
Hormuz Strait 88
(photo credit: )
The US Navy and its Gulf allies will not allow Iran to seal off the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the commander of US naval forces in the Gulf said Wednesday. The warning by Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the 5th Fleet, came as he was holding talks with naval commanders of Gulf countries at a conference in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi. The one-day meeting was to focus on the region's maritime and trade routes security and the threat of terrorism. The 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain, across the Gulf from Iran. Cosgriff said that if Iran chocked off the Strait of Hormuz, it would be "saying to the world that 40 percent of oil is now held hostage by a single country." "We will not allow Iran to close it," he told reporters. Cosgriff's comments follow Iranian threats that it could seal off the key passageway in case of a Western attack on Teheran. But Cosgriff said that if Iran moved to choke off Hormuz, the "international community would find its voice rapidly" against Iran. Earlier this week, Cosgriff said in Bahrain that such an Iranian move would be viewed as an act of war. Cosgriff said that out of 60 percent of known world oil reserves which are in the Gulf, a third are shipped by sea. Twenty-five million barrels of oil pass through Hormuz every day - the equivalent of about US$3 billion, he said. Tension has been high between Iran and the West over accusations that Teheran is supporting Shi'ite militias in Iraq and using its nuclear program as cover for weapons development. Iran has repeatedly denied both claims. The narrow Strait of Hormuz is particularly sensitive and has been the scene of close encounters between US and Iranian sailors. In a January 6 incident, five small Iranian high-speed boats charged US warships and threatened to blow up the convoy. In mid-December, a US ship fired a warning shot at a small Iranian boat that came too close, causing the Iranians to pull back. Senior US military officials have warned Iran about the risk of triggering an unintended conflict if its boats continue to harass American ships in the Gulf. The US military has been wary of small boats operating near its ships ever since an explosive-laden vessel rammed the USS Cole as it refueled in a Yemen harbor in 2000, killing 17 sailors onboard. The British have also tangled with the Iranians in the Gulf last year when Iran seized 15 sailors and marines while they were searching a merchant ship off the coast of Iraq. Iran eventually released the Brits after almost two weeks of holding them hostage. Cosgriff said that the US Navy keeps in this area usually some three dozen warships and their and auxiliary ships and didn't rule out the possibility of more close encounters with the Iranians. "I am concerned about the ability of that country to control its forces or the Republican Guards," he said, referring to Iran's paramilitary force. "This is not the time to engage in irresponsible behavior. Every US captain is fully ready to defend his or her ship."