Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, talks during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. –AP File Photo

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would control the major Gulf oil producers, send energy prices soaring, and “choke” the global economy.

“Everyone needs to understand that if we're worried today about rising oil prices we shall be far more worried if Iran, heaven forbid, gains control over the energy centres in the Persian Gulf,” he told a conference on environmentally-friendly economic growth.

“Iran would be able to dictate far higher oil prices and, by so doing, choke the world economy,” he said in remarks broadcast on Israeli public radio.

“Anyone who is interested in stopping the manipulative use of oil production, its influence on world markets, the threats to the world's economies, must also for that reason enlist to stop Iran's nuclear race.”

Israel and much of the international community fear Iran's nuclear programme masks a bid for weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report on Friday that Iran had tripled its capacity to enrich uranium to 20-per cent purity since November.

The UN nuclear watchdog said Iran was now producing around 14 kilos of uranium per month, with around 105 kilos already stockpiled.

Enriching uranium to 20 per cent is a major step towards purifying it to the 90-per cent level needed for a nuclear weapon, although Iran denies intending to do so, saying its atomic activities are entirely peaceful.

“The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme,” the IAEA said in its report, two days after an inspection team returned from Tehran.

Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East, says all options are open to stop Tehran's ambitions, but it is under intense pressure from Washington and Europe not to launch a pre-emptive military strike.

Netanyahu says that the issue will be top of the agenda when he meets US President Barack Obama for talks in the White House next Monday.

Updated Feb 28, 2012 04:24pm

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