ANKARA  - Iran's foreign minister warned Arab neighbours on Thursday not to put themselves in a "dangerous position" by aligning themselves too closely with the United States in the escalating dispute over Tehran's nuclear activity.

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, used for a third of the world's seaborne oil trade, if pending Western moves to ban Iranian crude exports cripple its lifeblood energy sector, fanning fears of a slide into wider Middle East war.

European Union foreign ministers are expected at a meeting on Monday to agree an oil embargo against Iran and a freeze on the assets of its central bank, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, confirming diplomatic leaks. Saudi Arabia, the world's No. 1 oil exporter, riled Iran earlier this week when it said it could swiftly raise oil output for key customers if needed, a scenario that could transpire if Iranian exports were embargoed.

"We want peace and tranquillity in the region. But some of the countries in our region, they want to direct other countries 12,000 miles away from this region," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in English during a visit to Turkey. The remark was an apparent reference to the alliance of Iran's Arab neighbours with Washington, which maintains a big naval force in the Gulf and says it will keep the waterway open. "I am calling to all countries in the region, please don't let yourselves be dragged into a dangerous position," Salehi told Turkey's NTV broadcaster.

He added the United States should make clear that it was open for negotiations with Tehran without conditions. He referred to a letter Iran says it received from US President Barack Obama about the situation in the Straight of Hormuz, the contents of which have not been made public. "Mr Obama sent a letter to Iranian officials, but America has to make clear that it has good intentions and should express that it's ready for talks without conditions," he said.

"Out in the open they show their muscles but behind the curtains they plead to us to sit down and talk. America has to pursue a safe and honest strategy so we can get the notion that America this time is serious and ready." The United States, like other Western countries, says it is prepared to talk to Iran but only if Tehran agrees to discuss halting its enrichment of uranium. Western officials say Iran has been asking for talks "without conditions" as a stalling tactic while refusing to put its nuclear programme on the table.