Iran Issues New Warnings After Defying a Deadline
TEHRAN - Iran warned Monday that it could easily close a critical Persian Gulf waterway to oil shipments and said that it had a new long-range naval weapon that could sink enemy ships nearly 200 miles away.
The warning, by the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, followed the weekend expiration of an informal deadline for Iran to respond to an offer of incentives from six world powers to stop enriching uranium.
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. On Monday, a State Department official said the six powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - had agreed to pursue new sanctions, but it remained unclear what they might be or which nations would take part.
In comments carried by the semiofficial Iranian news agency, Fars, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the Revolutionary Guards, said Iran was capable of imposing "unlimited controls" at the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, an important oil route.
"Closing the Strait of Hormuz for an unlimited period of time would be very easy," he was quoted as saying.
"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."
General Jafari gave no details about the type of weapon tested, 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, apparently a reference to United States warships, which have been conducting naval maneuvers there.
Iran has previously made similar claims about its military abilities, but analysts have treated them with skepticism. Last month, Iran said it had test-fired a number of missiles in war-game maneuvers, including at least one that 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 Persian).
Western military analysts said that those war games featured more bluff than real displays of new power and that 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 other 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 carried out what American intelligence officials described as a rehearsal for 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 nations gave Iran two weeks to respond to their latest proposal before it would be withdrawn.
Specifically, the nations wanted Iran to accept a formula known as freeze-for-freeze. Under the plan, Iran would not expand its nuclear program, and the United States and the 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 incentives to stop enriching uranium.
Iran dismissed the deadline; on Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran would not move "one iota" on its nuclear rights, although he said it welcomed talks.
At the United Nations, diplomats said Monday that they were assessing their options. "We are in the process of consulting with our partners, but the sense is that there is not much by way of a positive reaction from Iran at the moment," said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, France's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.
The State Department official, Gonzalo Gallegos, said the United States was disappointed that Iran had not responded. "The pressure on Iran to comply with the demands of the international community and its obligations will only grow," he said.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, spoke by telephone on Monday with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. The French Foreign Ministry said Mr. Solana was expecting a further written response from Iran on Tuesday.
Graham Bowley and Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from New York, and Helene Cooper from Washington.
By NAZILA FATHI
The New York Times