The U.S. Fifth Fleet said on Wednesday it will not allow any disruption of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, after Iran threatened to stop ships moving through the strategic oil route.
"The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity," a spokesperson for the Bahrain-based fleet said in a written response to queries from Reuters about the possibility of Iran trying to close the waterway.
"Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated."
Asked whether it was taking specific measures in response to the threat to close the Strait, the fleet said it "maintains a robust presence in the region to deter or counter destabilizing activities", without providing further detail.
The navy's comments came a day after Iran's first vice-president warned on Tuesday that the flow of crude will be stopped from the crucial Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if foreign sanctions are imposed on its oil exports, the country's official news agency reported.
"If they (the West) impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz," IRNA quoted Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying.
About a third of all sea-borne oil was shipped through the Strait in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), and U.S. warships patrol the area to ensure safe passage.
Tensions over Iran's nuclear program have increased since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on Nov. 8 that Tehran appears to have worked on designing a nuclear bomb and may still be pursuing research to that end. Iran strongly denies this and says it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Iran has warned it will respond to any attack by hitting Israel and U.S. interests in the Gulf, and analysts say one way to retaliate would be to close the Strait of Hormuz.
Most of the crude exported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq - together with nearly all the liquefied natural gas from lead exporter Qatar - must slip through a 4-mile (6.4 km) wide shipping channel between Oman and Iran.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now