WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- With the economic noose poised to tighten around Iran over its suspect nuclear program, the Tehran regime is shaking a stick at Persian Gulf nations.
The specific target: Saudi Arabia, whose oil minister recently said the kingdom was willing to help make up petroleum shortfalls if international sanctions that cut off Iran's oil exports aren't only imposed but actually enforced.
"If they (Saudi Arabia and gulf states) give the green light to replacing Iran's oil, these countries would be the main culprits for whatever happens in the region …" including the Strait of Hormuz," Iran's OPEC Gov. Mohammad Ali Khatibi said.
"Our Arab neighbor countries should not cooperate with these adventurers."
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said any such action by Riyadh wouldn't be considered "friendly" to Iran and suggested Saudi Arabia rethink its decision.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are traditional rivals and comments from both are pointedly related to representatives from the 27-member EU meeting this month over implementing new sanctions, including a banning of oil imports from the Islamic regime, against Tehran.
About 20 percent of Iran's oil exports go to Europe, about the same amount as that exported to China.
Although China opposes new sanctions on Iran, Tehran obviously hasn't missed China's demands of a price discount from Iran or a visit Saturday to Saudi Arabia by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who pronounced that China and Saudi Arabia should expand cooperation in the petroleum and natural gas sectors.
The new sanctions contemplated by the European Union would be a body blow to the Iran regime, which depends on oil exports for as much as 80 percent of its foreign exchange earnings.
The Iranian economy is already is turmoil. The United States passed sanctions that bar financial institutions that do business with Iran's Central Bank from doing business with U.S. financial institutions. They aren't scheduled to take effect for months yet -- and the law has waiver provisions -- but in effect it would prevent Iran from receiving payments for its exports.
Reports from Iran indicate that amid the tensions, the country's currency is nearly in free fall and the cost of commodities climbing.
Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed against it certainly haven't calmed the waters. The strait is the main transit route for the Persian Gulf's seaborne exports -- about one-third of the world's seaborne petroleum shipments pass through it.
In a move to give Europe pause on sanctions, Iran has reminded the EU of its members' fragile economies.
"Applying the scenario of sanctions on Iran's oil exports to the EU members would be economic suicide for member countries," Khatibi said.
Whether such nudges have an impact is questionable. A report from the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency suggesting that Tehran is indeed working toward producing a nuclear weapon appears to have stiffened resolve to keep it from doing so.
"Our sanctions are part of trying to get Iran to change course and to enter negotiations (on its nuclear program) and we should not be deterred from implanting those," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. "We will continue to intensify our own sanctions and those of the European Union."
Iran's nuclear intentions have been questioned for years. While the West has suspected Tehran is on a path to weapons development, Iran has insisted its nuclear fuel enrichment is for peaceful purposes, such as energy. Disclosure by Iranian dissidents of secret facilities in 2002 heightened suspicions that Tehran was being less than honest. Talks between Iran and the West sputtered along before breaking down about a year ago.
Since then a new facility has been constructed and fuel enrichment is progressing.
Both the United States and Israel, which Iran has threatened to wipe off the map, have said a military option isn't off the table in dealing with Tehran's suspected nuclear weapon ambitions, although Washington in pressuring Tel Aviv to refrain from such a move at present.
Both are also accused by Tehran of engaging in a clandestine war against it, including the introduction of a computer virus which disrupted its nuclear facilities and efforts and the assassination of its nuclear scientists and workers.