US ‘fully prepared’ for an Iran challenge

US ‘fully prepared’ for an Iran challenge

The U.S. military is now “fully prepared” to deal with any Iranian effort to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital Gulf avenue for international oil shipments, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Jan. 18.

At a Pentagon news conference, Panetta was asked whether, in light of Iran’s threat to close the strait in retaliation for stronger international economic sanctions, Washington is adjusting U.S. forces in the region.

“We are not making any special steps at this point in order to deal with the situation,” Panetta replied. “Why? Because, frankly, we are fully prepared to deal with that situation now.” He noted that routine planning continues as the U.S. and its allies consider a range of potential Iran-related problems.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the country’s most powerful military force, says Tehran’s leadership has decided to order the closure of the Strait of Hormuz if Iran’s oil exports are blocked as a result of sanctions. In his remarks at the Pentagon, Panetta said he still holds out hope for a diplomatic solution with Iran. “It takes two to be able to engage, and we’ve always expressed a willingness to try to do that,” he said. “But we’ve always made clear that in terms of any threats to the region, in terms of some of the behavior that they’ve conducted in the region, that we’ll also be prepared to respond militarily if we have to.”

Meanwhile, an Iranian lawmaker claimed that the U.S. President Barack Obama called for direct talks with Iran in a secret letter to the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that also warned Tehran against closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz. In Washington, an Obama administration official denied that Obama sent a letter to Khamenei, saying communication of U.S. views were being delivered through other diplomatic messages. “In the letter, Obama called for direct talks with Iran,” the semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari as saying Jan. 18. “The letter also said that closing the Strait of Hormuz is (Washington’s) red line.”

“The first part of the letter contains threats and the second part contains an offer for dialogue,” he added. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast confirmed that Tehran received the letter and was considering a possible response. Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud said they have all options on the table in order to protect Saudi Arabia’s against the threats from Iran.

Compiled from AP and AA stories by the Daily News staff.