Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York, the US, April 24 2019. Picture: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York, the US, April 24 2019. Picture: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI

Dubai —  Iran says it could quit a treaty against the spread of nuclear weapons after the US tightens sanctions, while an Iranian general says the US Navy is interacting as before with an elite military unit blacklisted by Washington.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since the Trump administration withdrew in 2018 from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran and began ratcheting up sanctions.

Earlier in April, the US blacklisted Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and demanded buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May or face sanctions.

“The Islamic Republic’s choices are numerous, and the country’s authorities are considering them ... and leaving the NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] is one of them,” state broadcaster IRIB’s website quoted foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying on Sunday.

Iran has threatened in the past to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as US President Donald Trump moved to scrap the 2015 deal with world powers — the US, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France.

Separately, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff said the Revolutionary Guards, which ensure security in Gulf waters and the Strait of Hormuz for Iran, had not observed any change in the US military's behaviour towards the elite force after the blacklisting.

“US warships are obliged to respond to the Revolutionary Guards on the passage of the Strait of Hormuz ... and until yesterday they have been answering Revolutionary Guards questions, and we have not seen change in their procedures,” Maj-Gen Mohammad Baqeri was quoted as saying on Sunday by the semi-official Fars news agency.

US naval forces central command spokesperson Chloe Morgan said: “The Strait of Hormuz is an international waterway. Threats to close the strait impact the international community and undermine the free flow of commerce.

“The US, along with our allies and partners, is committed to freedom of navigation and remains well positioned and postured to preserve the free flow of commerce, and we are prepared to respond to any acts of aggression.”

On Wednesday, Zarif called the  blacklisting of thr Revolutionary Guards “absurd”, but suggested Iran did not plan to respond militarily unless the US changed the rules of engagement guiding how it interacts with Iran’s forces. The US military has not suggested it would alter its behaviour after the blacklisting.

“We don’t intend to close the Strait of Hormuz, unless hostilities reach a level where this cannot be avoided,” Fars quoted Baqeri as saying. “If our oil does not pass, the oil of others shall not pass the Strait of Hormuz either.”

President Hassan Rouhani and some senior military commanders have threatened to disrupt oil shipments from Gulf countries if Washington tries to strangle Tehran’s oil exports.

Carrying 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.

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 criticised 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 said.