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US warns Iran over vital oil route closure

The United States yesterday warned Iran that it would not tolerate any disruption of naval traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, after Iran's navy chief said the Islamic Republic is capable of closing the vital oil route if the West imposes new sanctions targeting Tehran's oil exports.

Iran's Admiral Habibollah Sayyari told Press TV that closing the strait, the only sea outlet for the crucial oilfields in and around the Persian Gulf, "is very easy" for his country's naval forces. It was the second such warning by Iran in two days, reflecting Tehran's concern that the West is about to impose new sanctions that could hit the country's biggest source of revenue, its oil sector.

In response, the Bahrain-based US 5th Fleet's spokeswoman warned that any disruption at the strait "will not be tolerated". The spokeswoman, Lieutenant Rebecca Rebarich, said the US Navy is "always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation".

Western nations are growing increasingly impatient with Iran over its nuclear programme. The US and its allies have accused Iran of using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran has denied the charges, saying its programme is geared to peaceful uses.