Iran threatens to block key passageway for world's oil supply

The Iranian government for a second straight day has threatened to cut off oil supplies in the Persian Gulf. 

Iran’s navy chief said Wednesday it would be “very easy” to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the region's oil passes. 

Iran would mobilize its fleet of warships, submarines, speed boats, anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes, surface-to-sea missiles and drones, if provoked, to cut off access to the passageway, Adm. Habibollah Sayari said, according to a report by The Associated Press.

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The strategic passageway is a conduit for one-sixth of the world’s oil.

On Tuesday, a top Iranian official threatened to cut off oil exports by closing the strait, saying that “not a drop of oil will pass through” if the United States widens economic sanctions against the country.

Closing the strait would roil the world’s oil markets by cutting off a major supply and forcing shippers to take longer routes for delivery.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet told the BBC that this kind of action “will not be tolerated,” and that the U.S. was “always ready to counter malevolent actions.”

“The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity," Rebecca Rebarich told the BBC. "The US Navy is a flexible, multi-capable force committed to regional security and stability, always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation."

At the State Department on Wednesday, spokesman Mark Toner added, "as the Fifth Fleet has said and I believe other governments have also said, it's absolutely critical that there be freedom of navigation in these international waters."

At the same time, Toner said "it's hard to say" if it's a real threat by Iran or just rhetoric.

"We've seen...these kind of comments before on the part of the Iranians," he noted.

Earlier this month, the House passed a bill that would tighten sanctions on Iran and could allow for further sanctions against its central bank. The bill is in response to Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and its support of terrorist activities.

"This measure would cut Iran entirely off from the world's banking system, dealing an unprecedented blow to Iran's economy," House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said at the time. "This may cause short-term difficulties for the world's oil market, and it may rankle some of our allies, but it is necessary, because stopping Iran's nuclear program is of paramount strategic importance, and we're running out of time."

President Obama has said he will sign the bill.

— Amie Parnes contributed.

— This story was updated at 2:52 p.m.

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