Washington: The Pentagon has warned Iran against any attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most critical oil route. 'This is not just an important issue for security and stability in the region, but is an economic lifeline for countries in the Gulf, to include Iran,' Pentagon press secretary George Little said Wednesday.

'Interference with the transit or passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated,' Xinhua quoted Little as saying.

The remarks came after Iran's top officials threatened to seal off the important oil passageway. Iran's First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi said Tuesday that Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz if its oil exports are sanctioned by the West.

Again, Iran's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said Wednesday that the country's naval forces can readily block the oil route if needed.

In a separate statement, the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet said Wednesday that 'anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated.'

The tension came as the Iranian Navy launched a 10-day massive naval exercise in the international waters Saturday. The naval drill, dubbed Velayat 90, covers an area of 2,000 km stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.

Despite Tehran's threats, Little said that the Pentagon was not aware of 'any aggressive hostile action directed toward US vessels in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz'.

Tensions between Iran and the West have intensified since October this year when the US accused Iran of backing an assassination plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Soon after, following an International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran's nuclear program, the US, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions against Iran.

On Nov 29, angry Iranian protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran, which led to the recall of ambassadors by several European countries, including Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

Certain western countries have also said that they are considering sanctions against Iran's central bank and its crude exports.

(Agencies)