Baqeri: US ships still responsive to IRGC in Strait of Hormuz
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday Iran could leave a treaty against the spread of nuclear weapons after the United States tightens sanctions.
"The Islamic Republic's choices are numerous, and the country's authorities are considering them ... and leaving the NPT (the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) is one of them," Zarif told IRIB.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since the administration of US President Trump withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran and began ratcheting up sanctions.
Iran has threatened in the past to leave the NPT, as Trump moved to scrap the 2015 deal with world powers – the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France.
Separately, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri told reporters on Sunday the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) – which ensures security in Persian Gulf waters and the Strait of Hormuz for Iran – had not observed any change in the US military's behavior toward the elite force after the blacklisting.
Earlier this month, the United States blacklisted the IRGC and demanded buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May or face sanctions.
"US warships are obliged to respond to the IRGC on the passage of the Strait of Hormuz ... and until yesterday they have been answering IRGC questions, and we have not seen change in their procedures,” Baqeri said.
On Wednesday, Zarif called the IRGC blacklisting "absurd", but suggested Iran did not plan to respond militarily unless the United States changed the rules of engagement guiding how it interacts with Iran's forces. The US military has not suggested it would alter its behavior after the blacklisting.
"We don't intend to close the Strait of Hormuz, unless hostilities reach a level where this cannot be avoided," Baqeri said. "If our oil does not pass, the oil of others shall not pass the Strait of Hormuz, either."
The remarks came after Washington said earlier this month it would start imposing sanctions on countries such as India, China and Turkey that buy Iranian oil.
Eight countries were initially given six-month reprieves after the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November.
Iranian officials have repeatedly warned the Islamic Republic could shut down the strait, a vital shipping lane for international oil supplies, should it find its national interests or security threatened.
Being the route for shipping one-third of the world's seaborne oil every day, the Strait of Hormuz links Middle East crude producers to markets in Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond.
"We believe Iran will continue to sell its oil ... (and) use the Strait of Hormuz. But if the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that, then it should be prepared for the consequences," Zarif said on Wednesday.
"It is in our vital national security interest to keep the Persian Gulf open, to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. We have done that in the past and we will continue to do that in the future," he added.
Iran has also threatened to pull out of the 2015 deal unless European powers enable it to receive economic benefits.
The Europeans have said they would help companies do business with Iran as long as it abides by the deal, but Tehran has criticized what it sees as the slow pace of progress on a promised payment mechanism for Iran-Europe trade.
"The Europeans have had a year but unfortunately they have not taken any practical measures," Zarif told IRIB.
US warships filmed by Iran
Tasnim News Agency released high-quality footage on Saturday that showed an IRGC surveillance drone flying over American aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf and capturing close-up shots of the aircraft parked on its deck.
Besides the aircraft carrier, a destroyer and another, apparently logistical, vessel were also filmed.
The footage, the agency said, “bears special features not seen in videos previously [captured and] released of these vessels.” The report added, “The IRGC’s Navy maintains [surveillance] command over all terrorist US forces in the region, including the Persian Gulf, and closely monitors their movements.”
The report did not specify the date of the footage, which emerged a month after the IRGC’s Aerospace Division held offensive-combat drone exercises in the Persian Gulf region, involving dozens of RQ-170 stealth unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which Iran has manufactured based on a model of a US Sentinel drone it captured unharmed in 2011.
Reuters, AFP and Press TV contributed to this story.