UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday appealed to all sides in the dispute over Iran's nuclear program to reduce tensions and urged Tehran not to follow through on threats to close a key shipping lane.
As Western states tighten sanctions on Iran and its enemies wage an apparent covert war against an Iranian nuclear program that the West suspects is intended to produce weapons, Tehran has warned several times it may seal off the Strait of Hormuz, choking the supply of Gulf oil and gas.
"There is no alternative to a peaceful resolution of this," Ban told reporters in New York. "At the same time I have been urging the parties to first of all try to defuse the tension. These rhetorics are not helpful."
He urged Tehran, which denies U.S. and European allegations that it is developing an atomic weapons capability, not to take any steps to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world's oil shipments flows each year.
"This is a very important area for international trade and commerce, the Strait of Hormuz," Ban said. "The free passage of any ships in open seas should be respected and protected."
He reiterated his concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which the latest report by the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suggested may have a military dimension.
He urged Tehran to cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors and to return to negotiations with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - and Germany to resolve the decade-long standoff over its nuclear program at the negotiating table.
Earlier this week European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she hoped EU plans to ban oil imports from Iran as of July 1 would pressure Tehran to resume talks with the so-called "P5+1.
Iran has said it is willing to hold talks with Western powers, though there have been mixed signals on whether conditions imposed by both sides make new negotiations likely.
U.S. President Barack Obama warned Iran on Tuesday the United States would keep up pressure on its disputed nuclear program with "no options off the table," but said the door remained open to talks for a peaceful resolution.
Iran's nuclear program is a major concern for Israel, which has not ruled out a unilateral strike on Iran's nuclear sites.
(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Vicki Allen)