Thursday, February 22, 2018

Iran threatens U.S. ships, alarms oil markets

WASHINGTON — Iran escalated its war of words with the United States on Tuesday with a warning to Navy ships to stay out of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, remarks that rattled commodities markets and helped send oil prices soaring.

The latest in a series of provocative statements by Iranian leaders was delivered by the Iranian armed forces commander, Gen. Ataollah Salehi, who appeared to threaten a U.S. aircraft carrier that steamed out of Persian Gulf waters last week.

"We warn this ship, which is considered a threat to us, not to come back, and we do not repeat our words twice," Salehi said, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency.

The Obama administration brushed aside the threat, but the increasingly bellicose tone, coupled with new economic sanctions against Iran expected to take effect in the coming weeks because of its nuclear program, helped cause the price of oil to jump more than 4 percent to $103 a barrel.

The threat against U.S. ships was the latest in a series of aggressive moves by Iran, which within a week has tested new missiles, boasted of breakthroughs in nuclear technology and vowed to shut down shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-sixth of the world's oil supply.

U.S. officials attributed Tuesday's harsh language to Iran's growing frustration over its faltering economy, which they say is suffering under the weight of several rounds of Western sanctions adopted in the past three years.

The Iranian currency, the rial, slipped to unprecedented lows against the dollar Tuesday. Currency traders have been dumping the rial in advance of tougher sanctions, including measures signed by President Barack Obama on Saturday targeting the Central Bank of Iran. In addition, the European Union is expected to approve new sanctions at a meeting Jan. 30, including curbs on imports of Iran's main export commodity, petroleum.

"Frankly, we see these threats from Tehran as just increasing evidence that the international pressure is beginning to bite there," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Tuesday. She said Iranian officials were "trying to divert the attention of their own public from the difficulties inside Iran, including the economic difficulties as a result of the sanctions."

Iranian warnings Tuesday were directed at the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, which left the Persian Gulf with its battle group last week in advance of a planned 10-day military exercise by Iran. Salehi, the Iranian general, boasted that aircraft and drones had shadowed the warship as it left the region and that Iran was prepared to block its return. The warship is based at U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters in nearby Bahrain.

U.S. officials and military analysts dismissed the threat as a bluff. A Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. Bill Speaks, said the Navy would continue to deploy its ships in the gulf "as it has for decades."

Comments
The Daystarter: Rubio taken to task; Romano on the GOP lobby; St. Pete’s World Liquors sign finds new home; what if Rays know what they’re doing?

The Daystarter: Rubio taken to task; Romano on the GOP lobby; St. Pete’s World Liquors sign finds new home; what if Rays know what they’re doing?

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• Temperatures peaked Wednesday, but don’t expect cooler air to return just yet. Highs will remain in the mid 80s through next week, according to 10Weather WTSP. And it will re...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Calvary Christian baseball team opens title defense with heavy hearts

Calvary Christian baseball team opens title defense with heavy hearts

CLEARWATER — Braden Halladay admits there will be some emotions when he takes the mound Friday for his first start of the season. How can there not be?His father, Roy, won't be watching.Roy Halladay, one of the best Major League Baseball pitche...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Make it difficult – or impossible – to get assault weapons, say school superintendents at governor’s roundtable

Make it difficult – or impossible – to get assault weapons, say school superintendents at governor’s roundtable

Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego was one of five superintendents invited to Tallahassee this week by Gov. Rick Scott to discuss how to prevent another school shooting like last week's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Hig...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Aide who claimed students were ‘actors’ had IRS troubles. So why did Shawn Harrison hire him?

Aide who claimed students were ‘actors’ had IRS troubles. So why did Shawn Harrison hire him?

Facing Democratic criticism and national news coverage over fired legislative aide Benjamin Kelly, state Rep. Shawn Harrison said Wednesday that he hired Kelly despite a conviction for not filing tax returns because, "I believe in second chances...
Updated: 1 hour ago
UK growth in 2017 downgraded as consumer spending wanes

UK growth in 2017 downgraded as consumer spending wanes

Official figures show that the British economy did not grow as strongly as initially anticipated in the final quarter of 2017
Updated: 2 hours ago

Dutch prosecutors reject calls for criminal tobacco case

Dutch prosecutors said Thursday they will not open a criminal investigation into four major tobacco companies on charges including attempted murder or manslaughter, saying such a case would be unlikely to lead to a conviction
Updated: 2 hours ago
U-S-A! U-S-A! Women’s hockey beats Canada for Olympic gold

U-S-A! U-S-A! Women’s hockey beats Canada for Olympic gold

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The Americans' gold medal drought in women's hockey is finally over. They needed the first shootout in an Olympic women's final to do it, too.Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored a dazzling, triple-deke goal in the sixth ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
World stocks lower after Fed report renews bond yield fears

World stocks lower after Fed report renews bond yield fears

World stock indexes are tracking Wall Street's decline as Fed report rekindled fears of inflation, rising bond yields
Updated: 2 hours ago

Legoland Florida locked down after concerning note found

Authorities say they closed Legoland Florida to new guests and prevented current guests from leaving for a short time after a concerning note was found in a family bathroom
Updated: 3 hours ago
A big night for NBC, led by Lindsey Vonn, women's hockey

A big night for NBC, led by Lindsey Vonn, women's hockey

Lindsey Vonn helps reignite interest in the Olympics with her skiing this week, and NBC is showered with American medals in thrilling telecast
Updated: 3 hours ago