Oil Minister Ali Akbar Moinfar said today that Iran will cut off oil shipments to any country that goes along with economic sanctions against Tehran as urged by the United States.
Moinfar made his warning in an interview published by the independent Tehran magazine Iranian as the U.N. Security Council debated a U.S. proposal to impose the sanctions as a way of pressuring for release of AMERICAN HOSTAGES HELD IN THE U.S. Embassy here.
Moinfar's comment came before Iran's U.N. representative proposed a compromise solution to the hostage crisis that led to a delay of the Security Council vote.
Moinfar reiterated the often expressed Iranian contention that sanctions pose no genuine threat because Western countries will prove unable to unite against Iran and, even if they do, Eastern European "and even those countries that appear to be in the U.S. camp" will step forward to help.
"But if things come to a head, we will definitely use the oil weapon, because the West needs our petroleum more than we need oil income," he added. "We will cut oil supplies to any country which imposes sanctions against us."
Moinfar's comments reflected a broadly shared determination in the Iranian government and among many Iranian people to respond firmly to any economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies. At the same time, however, the ultimate decision on cutting off Iranian oil shipments would belong to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country's spiritual guide and de facto ruler.
Khomeini has not pronounced himself on precise Iranian reaction to the imposition of sanctions. He has made it clear, however, that he is determined to fight them. He warned two weeks ago that they could escalate from economic war to a military confrontation with the United States.
A similar warning was sounded today by Commerce Minister Ali Reza Sadr, who said any attempt to block movement of Iranian oil through the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf "would certainly result in war."
"Since the lion's share of the world's oil is exported through the Persian Gulf, the blockade would severely threaten the West's economy, he added. "The blockade is therefore unlikely."
Although the talk of war was regarded here as bluster, Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh said two weeks ago that efforts to use the hostages only as witnesses in an international tribunal to probe the U.S. role in alleged crimes by the deposed shah -- rather than trying them individually as spies -- will be dropped if the sanctions are imposed.
Any broad cutoff of Iranian oil shipments would be likely to increase upward pressure on already high world prices. Moinfar estimated Iranian production at 3.5 million barrels a day, of which more than 2.5 million are exported. Western Europe and Japan would feel the pinch most directly, since Iranian oil shipments to the United States already have been halted.
Iranian economists have predicted that economic sanctions would have little immediate effect in Iran itself unless food supplies are cut off. At the same time, however, they have warned that the a Iranian government would soon face a revenue shortage if oil shipments -- and payments -- should stop as a result of the sanctions.
Even within Iran, they say, sanctions would begin to have a crippling effect if they continued over a number of months. Spare parts for machinery such as automobiles and airplanes could become scarce and the few Iranian factories still operating would face similar trouble, they added.
But Iranian government officials, including Moinfar, have countered that the sanctions will not be effective enough for that because Western countries and Japan need Iran's oil too badly to observe sanctions at the risk of losing their petroleum supply.
In addition, they say, Soviet allies in Eastern Europe have promised to supply what the West will not. A Soviet veto in the Security Council to block the sanctions there would accelerate the search for alternate import sources among the Eastern European nations, diplomats here predict.
If only the United States and its most loyal allies decide on the sanctions because of a Soviet veto, Iranians also could be expected to point to the Security Councils's failure as a sign that most of the world stands behind Iran in its dispute with the United States, they say.
In another development, Reuter reported that at least one person was killed and four others wounded in fighting today in the northwest city of Tabriz, capital of Turkish-speaking Azerbaijan Province.
Shooting broke out when militants of the Moslem People's Republican Party, whose leader is the Ayatollah Kazen Shariatmadrai, attacked a mosque in an attempt to arrest a mullah who had been speaking there. The mosque reportedly was defended by Revolutionary Guards loyal to Khomeini.