Report: US warns Iran not to close vital strait in the Persian Gulf

The United States opened up a secret channel of communication to convey to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz would prompt an American military response, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed administration officials.

The United States has said it would take action if Iran tried to close the strait, a vital oil waterway in the Persian Gulf. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday that closing the strait was a “red line” for the United States.

Analysts say that Iran’s threats are unlikely to be backed up with action, as closing down the strait would devastate Iran’s oil-rich economy and military conflict could doom Iran’s military if the United States attacked.

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Still, the message the United States sent to Khamenei is a sign of how serious the Obama administration views Iran’s threats.

Tensions have continued to rise in Iran this week, as the country sentenced a former U.S. Marine to death for allegedly spying for the CIA, and an Iranian scientist was assassinated on Wednesday.

The tensions stem from Iran’s nuclear program and economic sanctions the United States and Europe are putting in place in response. The United States and others warn that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran threatened to close the strait began last month after the United States passed sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, and the European Union was expected to pass an oil embargo against Iran.