Iran shrugs off sanctions threat over atomic plans
Iran voiced defiance on Monday as Western powers pushed for new sanctions over its nuclear programme, saying high oil prices will cushion the blow.
The United States, Britain and France are pushing for a United Nations Security Council vote on a third round of sanctions this week because they fear Iran seeks an atomic bomb.
But an Iranian minister was quoted as saying the economy of the world's fourth-largest oil producer would not be hurt.
"New sanctions will not harm Iran's economy. High oil prices will help Iran to compensate," Economy and Finance Minister Davoud Danesh-Jafari was quoted by the students' news agency ISNA as saying.
Danesh-Jafari was speaking hours before senior diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, the United States, China and Russia were due to meet in Washington to discuss their next moves on Iran's nuclear programme.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country denies wanting nuclear weapons, said on Saturday world powers could pass sanctions resolutions for 100 years without deterring Tehran from its nuclear work.
Iran has also warned Western powers they would be the ones to suffer if new sanctions were imposed on Tehran, which has resisted any OPEC oil output increase to bring down prices from above $99 a barrel. Tehran has even supported an output cut.
Oil prices surged to a record high above $100 a barrel last week. The oil exporters' group OPEC next meets on March 5.
Mohammad Ali Khatibi, deputy director of international affairs at the National Iranian Oil Company, said he saw no reason for OPEC oil producing countries to raise output as market supplies of crude were sufficient.
TIME 'NOT ON WEST'S SIDE'
As Western powers push for new sanctions, time is not on their side, Washington's ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, was quoted as saying by a French newspaper.
He told Le Figaro Iran's testing of a new generation of centrifuges - machines that enrich uranium - would bring it closer to obtaining fissile material needed for an atomic bomb.
"From a certain point of view, time is not working in our favor - the Iranians are now planning to develop a new, more efficient generation of centrifuges and if they master that technology to produce fissile material they will have access to better enriched uranium," he said.
France and Britain have formally submitted a third sanctions resolution against Iran to the UN Security Council calling for measures including asset freezes and mandatory travel bans for specific Iranian officials.
It also expands the list of Iranian officials and companies targeted by the sanctions. Earlier rounds of sanctions were imposed in December 2006 and March 2007.
Khalilzad says he is hoping for a vote on Friday by the 15-nation council.
Tehran insists it is seeking to master nuclear technology to make electricity and save oil and gas reserves for export.
The Security Council has demanded Iran halt uranium enrichment, which can be used to make fuel for power plants or, potentially, material for bombs. Iran has refused.
The Islamic Republic has threatened to review co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose latest report on Friday confronted Iran for the first time with Western intelligence reports of work linked to making atomic bombs. (Reuters)
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