Iran has stepped back from a threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, but while its softened rhetoric appears to be aimed at de-escalating military tensions, it does not indicate any change of stance on its nuclear programme.
“Iran’s leadership has a strong sense of self-preservation,” said Robert Smith, a consultant at Facts Global Energy. “The comments can likely be interpreted as a sign of cooler heads prevailing.”
That was a significant shift from earlier this month when Tehran said the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier, which left at the end of December during Iranian naval manoeuvres, should not return — an order interpreted by some observers in Iran and Washington as a blanket threat to any US carriers.
Only a few weeks ago Tehran was threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, used by a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade, if new sanctions cripple its oil exports — exactly the effect Washington and Europe are aiming for.
European Union foreign ministers on Monday agreed for a ban on importing oil from Iran and sanctions signed by US President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve to make it impossible for countries around the world to buy Iranian crude.
Iran's first vice-president Mohammad Reza Rahimi, who had said Iran would not allow “even one drop of oil” through the strait if oil sanctions are imposed, was less fiery in remarks reported on Sunday.
“Today they (the West) have launched a new game against Iran but it is clear that we will resist against their excessive demands,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
But while Iran may be reining in its most hawkish rhetoric, and calling for a resumption of talks with world powers that stalled a year ago, it is no closer to offering concessions on the nuclear issue that could lead to an easing of sanctions.