Sen. Kirk: Iran making ‘empty threat’

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), one of the chief authors of the amendment imposing stiff sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, said the country’s talk of closing the Strait of Hormuz to oil tankers is “an empty threat.”

“It’s self-defeating because if they close the Strait of Hormuz, one, the Iranian Navy will be erased almost within a week, and two, Iran will cut off its own income,” Kirk told The Hill.

Iran drew the world’s attention and threatened oil markets when it said it would attempt to close the strait — a key choke point in the Persian Gulf for nearly 20 percent of the world’s oil — if countries imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, a key economic driver.

The United States has said it would block any attempts by Iran to close the strait, including military options.

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Kirk’s amendment with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), which was opposed by the Obama administration, was included in the Senate’s Defense authorization bill and passed the Senate 100-0. President Obama signed the bill into law on New Year’s Eve, though he attached a signing statement that made it unclear how strongly the sanctions would be enforced.

The Menendez-Kirk amendment cuts off U.S. access to foreign financial institutions that do significant business with the Central Bank of Iran. The amendment gives the president a waiver for national security purposes.

In addition, Europe and other countries are considering oil embargoes against Iran, which could have a devastating impact on the country’s economy. Iran’s rial dropped 20 percent against the dollar this past week, and Reuters reported Iran had blocked text messages that included the word “dollar.”

“The Iranians felt they were in quite a tough position as their currency was losing value and steam was picking up on sanctions,” Kirk said. “That’s why they leveled the threats.”

Kirk said he disagreed with the president’s signing statement, as he believes the sanctions provision doesn’t give the president wiggle room for imposing the sanctions or formally requesting a waiver.

“It made everybody unsure as to whether the administration would follow the Menendez-Kirk amendment or not,” Kirk said.