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Britain shrugs off Iran's oil threat

Britain has dismissed Iranian threats to close a vital route for the oil trade as "rhetoric" intended to distract attention from its nuclear programme.

Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi has warned that Iran will not allow a "drop of oil" to pass through the Straits of Hormuz if the West widens sanctions against his country.

His warning was underlined by the head of the Iranian navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, who said it would be "really easy" for his forces to block the waterway.

The Foreign Office, however, accused Tehran of trying to deflect attention from its nuclear programme which Western governments fear is being used to develop a nuclear weapon.

"Iranian politicians regularly use this type of rhetoric to distract attention from the real issue - the nature of their nuclear programme," a spokesman said.

The Straits of Hormuz link the Gulf oil-producing states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with the Indian Ocean. Around 40% of the world's tanker-borne oil passes through them.

Tensions between Iran and the West have risen since a report last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had carried out tests related to the "development of a nuclear device".

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