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08-04-2008, 02:28 PM
Iran Escalates Military Rhetoric


August 5, 2008

TEHRAN — Iran warned Monday that it could easily close a critical Persian Gulf waterway for oil shipments and claimed possession of a new long-range naval weapon that could sink enemy ships nearly 200 miles away.

It was unclear what provoked the warning, made by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, but it followed the weekend expiration of an informal deadline for Iran to respond to incentives from world powers to curb its uranium enrichment activities. The United States, which has warships deployed in the Persian Gulf, has said new sanctions should be imposed on Iran for failing to respond to the deadline.

The Iranian warning coincided with word that Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, spoke by phone on Monday with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. Mr. Solana was expected to report back on the conversation to the representatives of the six countries — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — that are leading the demands that Iran stop enriching uranium, Agence France-Presse reported.

In comments carried by the semiofficial Iranian news agency Fars, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said that Iran was capable of imposing “unlimited controls” at the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, an important international oil route.

“Closing the Strait of Hormuz for an unlimited period of time would be very easy,” he was quoted as saying.

General Jafari gave no details about the type of naval weapon involved in the recent test, but he said it was Iranian-built and “unique in the world.”

He said it would have the range to reach enemy warships in the Persian Gulf, an apparent reference to United States warships which have been conducting naval maneuvers in the Gulf.

“The Guards have recently tested a naval weapon which I can say with certainty that the enemy’s ships would not be safe within the range of 300 kilometers,” General Jafari was quoted as saying. “Without any doubt we will send them to the depths of the sea.”

Iran has previously made similar claims about its military capabilities but analysts have treated them with some skepticism. Early last month, Iran announced it had test-fired a number of missiles in war-game maneuvers, including at least one the government in Tehran described as having the range to reach Israel and another that it said was a relatively new torpedo called a Hoot missile ( the name means whale in Iranian). But Western military analysts said those war games featured more bluff and exaggeration than real displays of menacing new power and said the statements about the range of the largest missile were misleading.

General Jafari’s comments were the latest sign of tensions between Iran and the United States over Iran’s civilian nuclear program, which Washington and many Western governments have warned could be used to cloak the development of a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran has repeatedly denied.

The Bush administration has refused to rule out a military option, and in June Israel’s air force rehearsed what American intelligence officials described as a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Representatives of the six nations met with Iranian officials in Geneva on July 19, with a senior American official taking part for the first time. The talks seemed to produce no progress on the chief demand — that Iran stop uranium enrichment — but the six powers gave Iran two weeks to respond to their latest proposal before it would be withdrawn.

Specifically, the world powers wanted Iran to accept a formula known as freeze-for-freeze. Under this plan, Iran would not expand its nuclear program, and the United States and other powers would not seek new international sanctions for six weeks to pave the way for formal negotiations. The proposal, first offered last year, is intended to give Iran economic and political incentives to stop enriching uranium.

Iran dismissed the deadline and on Saturday President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran would not move an inch on its nuclear rights, although he said it welcomed talks.

“We will take part in any negotiations and talk about any issue which consolidates our nuclear rights,” he said during a meeting with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, according to the Iranian presidency Web site.

After Iran’s failure to reply by the deadline, the United States on Sunday said that the United Nations Security Council now had no choice but to expand sanctions. The Security Council has already imposed three sets of sanctions since 2006.

“It is clear that the government of Iran has not complied with the international community’s demand to stop enriching uranium and isn’t even interested in trying,” said Richard Grenell, a spokesman for the United States mission to the United Nations, according to Reuters.

“They leave the Security Council no choice but to increase the sanctions, as called for in the last resolution passed,” he added.