TEHRAN // Faced with the prospect of new sanctions because of Iran's nuclear defiance, the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said today that new penalties would only strengthen the country's technological progress by encouraging it to become more self-sufficient. In a speech, Mr Ahmadinejad also said US steps to pressure Iran have backfired and instead have isolated Washington in the eyes of the world.
"Don't imagine that you can stop Iran's progress," Mr Ahmadinejad said in remarks broadcast live on state television. "The more you reveal your animosity, the more it will increase our people's motivation to double efforts for construction and progress of Iran." President Barack Obama said on Thursday that six world powers dealing with Iran's nuclear programme will develop a package of serious new punitive measures over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment in coming weeks.
China has not confirmed US reports that it has dropped its opposition to possible new UN sanctions against Iran. China has veto power in the UN Security Council and its support would be key to passing a resolution against Iran. Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, is in China in the hopes of winning assurances from Beijing that it will oppose sanctions. The US and some of its allies have accused Iran of seeking to use its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran has denied the charge, saying its nuclear programme is geared towards generating electricity, not bombs. Three rounds of earlier United Nations sanctions have already been imposed. Iran's economy has suffered over the past year, and parliament approved a cut in subsidies that keep fuel prices low, a further blow to Iranians already experiencing high unemployment and inflation. The UN Security Council could consider new punishments on Iran, including increasing financial squeezes on the extensive holdings of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
The US has also said it could seek to penalise companies that sell fuel to the oil-rich Islamic republic, which imports about 40 per cent of the fuel it needs because its refineries cannot keep pace. Iran has periodically boasted of what it says is growing self-sufficiency in technological sectors like its satellite programme and other scientific work. Seeking to demonstrate that point, Mr Ahmadinejad's speech today was to workers at the inauguration of an industrial project in southern Iran. He said Iran need not be bothered by the prospect of new sanctions. "They (Americans) said they want to impose fuel sanctions. ... They don't understand that they work in our favour. They imagine we will get upset should they refuse to sell gasoline to us. ... No, we immediately tell experts to produce it," he said.
Mr Ahmadinejad said the US has failed to isolate Iran. He said the fact that Obama's recent visit to Afghanistan was not announced beforehand for security reasons was evidence of America's own isolation. "First, let's see who is isolated. We think those who can't show up publicly among the people and directly address them are isolated, those who fear nations. Gentlemen go to a country where they have 60,000 troops without any prior announcement. Who is isolated?" he said.
The Iranian president noted that his own trip to Afghanistan was announced in advance and said he was warmly received. "You are isolated yourself, but you are hotheaded and don't understand it," he added. * AP