|© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Sterett Destroyer escorts the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln during a transit through the Strait of Hormuz|
By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy stands ready to ensure free navigation and the flow of commerce, the U.S. military's Central Command said on Thursday, as Iran's Revolutionary Guards warned they would block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if necessary.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and some senior military commanders have threatened in recent days to disrupt oil shipments from the Gulf countries if Washington tries to cut Tehran's exports.
Praising Rouhani's "firm stance" against the United States, the head of the Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday their forces were ready to block the strait which links the Gulf to the open sea.
In May, U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a multinational deal under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs to its nuclear program. Washington has since told countries they must stop buying Iranian oil from Nov. 4 or face financial measures.
If Iran cannot sell its oil under U.S. pressure, then no other regional country will be allowed to either, said Mohammad Ali Jafari, who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s most powerful military force.
"We are hopeful that this plan expressed by our president will be implemented if needed ... We will make the enemy understand that either all can use the Strait of Hormuz or no one,” Jafari was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
The Strait of Hormuz is the most important oil transit channel in the world with about one-fifth of global oil consumption passing through each day.
"The U.S. and its partners provide, and promote security and stability in the region," Central Command spokesman Navy Captain Bill Urban said in an email to Reuters.
Asked what would be the U.S. Naval Forces' reaction if Iran blocks the strait, he said: "Together, we stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows."
The Guards' naval arm lacks a strong conventional fleet. However, it has many speed boats and portable anti-ship missile launchers, and can lay mines.
A senior U.S. military leader said in 2012 the Guards have the ability to block the strait "for a period of time" but the United States would take action to reopen it in such an event.