Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iran's Parliament preparing a bill that would prohibit all foreign warships from Persian Gulf

Iran's parliament said Wednesday it was preparing a bill that would prohibit all foreign warships from entering the Persian Gulf unless they received permission from the Iranian navy.

The bill, disclosed by the the semiofficial Fars News Agency, surfaced a day after Iran’s armed forces commander warned a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier not to return to the gulf, remarks that rattled commodities markets and helped drive up oil prices.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to a warning by Iran's army chief that an American aircraft carrier should not return to the Persian Gulf.

Iran tested two long-range missiles on the last day of its naval exercises. The country is threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which would cut off a large percentage of the world's oil supply.

The proposed legislation suggested that at least some Iranian officials are serious about trying to stop the U.S. Navy from entering the oil-rich gulf waters. Iranian analysts said the bill probably would not have been introduced if it were not supported by higher authorities.

“If the military vessels and warships of any country want to pass via the Strait of Hormuz without coordination and permission of Iran’s navy forces, they should be stopped by the Iranian armed forces,” Fars quoted lawmaker Nader Qazipour as saying in explaining the bill. He noted that Iran regards the strait as part of its territorial waters and said the bill would be presented to parliamentary leaders next week.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ahmad Vahidi restated Iran's position that “transnational forces” have no place in the region. Vahidi also said Iran is willing to organize joint military drills with neighboring countries, Fars reported Wednesday.

The news agency, which has ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, claimed that the carrier USS John C. Stennis, which steamed out of the Persian Gulf last week, had escaped while being “chased by Iranian warships.”

The United States has dismissed as overblown rhetoric Iran’s threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf, in retaliation for Western sanctions over its uranium-enrichment program.

The increasingly bellicose tone from Tehran has coincided with a currency crisis that has forced the government to intervene to prop up the ailing rial. Helping to drive the rial to record lows was U.S. legislation signed Saturday by President Obama that includes a provision for unilateral sanctions against Iran’s central bank.

Iran responded by injecting an additional $200 million into the country’s currency markets Wednesday, Fars reported. While the rial’s rate appeared to stabilize, people involved in trading dollars said they were hanging onto their foreign currency for now.

Many Iranians were trying to buy dollars anyway, but sellers were hard to find.

“Nobody is selling their dollars,” said one exchange office representative who did not want to be identified. “The current rate is artificial.”

The crisis spurred rumors that the job of Central Bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani was in jeopardy. According to Fars, he has asked for more authority to clamp down on “speculation” against the rial.

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