U.S. can defeat any Iranian effort to block oil shipping: Panetta

WASHINGTON Wed Jul 18, 2012 1:55pm EDT

British Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond signs a guestbook as he is welcomed to the Pentagon by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta (R) in Washington, July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Glenn Fawcett/Handout

British Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond signs a guestbook as he is welcomed to the Pentagon by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta (R) in Washington, July 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Glenn Fawcett/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has the military capacity to defeat any Iranian attempt to shut down sea commerce in the oil-rich Gulf region and will hold Tehran directly responsible for shipping disruptions, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday.

"The United States is fully prepared for all contingencies here," Panetta told a Pentagon news conference. "We've invested in capabilities to ensure that the Iranian attempt to close down shipping in the Gulf is something that we are going to be able to defeat, if they make a decision to do that."

Panetta's comments came amid rising tensions in the region over Iran's nuclear program and its threats to close the vital Strait of Hormuz unless the international community revokes sanctions imposed on Iranian oil shipments.

A security team aboard a U.S. Navy oiler opened fire with a .50 caliber machine gun on a small boat off the United Arab Emirates this week after it failed to heed warnings to alter its course. An Indian fisherman was killed and three others were wounded in the incident, which is under investigation.

Concerns about the security situation in the region have prompted the Pentagon to bolster its military presence, announcing this week, for example, that it would move the USS Stennis aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf four months earlier than planned in order to maintain current force levels.

The Stennis will replace another carrier that is being withdrawn, which would have left one strike group in the region to counter Iran and support U.S. combat air operations in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military announced on Tuesday more than 20 countries would participate in anti-mine exercises in the region in September. The exercises will not take place in the Strait and the Pentagon denied it was sending a message to Iran.

The USS Ponce, a forward staging base ship, arrived in the Gulf earlier this month to help support mine countermeasure operations and other maritime security efforts in the region, the military said.

British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, appearing at the Pentagon news conference with Panetta, said London was committed to helping ensure Gulf sea lanes remained open.

"I can reaffirm our commitment to play our part in maintaining freedom of navigation in the international waters of the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz," Hammond said. "Any attempt by Iran to close the Straits would be illegal and the international community will not allow it to happen."

Panetta said Washington was prepared to respond to any move against sea commerce by Tehran.

"The Iranians need to understand that the United States and the international community are going to hold them directly responsible for any disruption of shipping in that region, by Iran or for that matter by its surrogates," he said.

(Reporting by Phil; Stewart and David Alexander; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Comments (25)
owl905 wrote:
The reality at street level says otherwise. Both the UAE and Saudi are (re)building alternative pipelines to avoid the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has already won the war of words with the costs incurred to avoid the consequences of an Iranian attempted closure.

Jul 18, 2012 1:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
bobber1956 wrote:
2 carrier groups with the support of a few B52s and stealth bombers could pretty much take out most countries. Yes, I think they can keep the shipping lanes open.

Jul 18, 2012 1:18pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
usagadfly wrote:
There is no doubt that, over time, the US can militarily dominate the Straits of Hormuz and can invade and conquer Iran to the extent it can remove the current Government there.

The questions are two:

1. At what cost to the American People as a whole, and

2. For what purpose and in whose interest?

Neither of those questions is being addressed, and given the one party State in control of the USA, are highly unlikely to be. They will make you pay any price to achieve and protect their goals.

Between the intransigence of both sides, a collision seems inevitable. The USA is still trying to prove it can have its way with the internal politics of Asian countries, especially ones that are predominately Muslim. Two wars up so far, and two failures. Third time’s a charm??

Jul 18, 2012 1:39pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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