Sanctions-hit Iran defiant but 'ready' for nuclear talks
Iran vowed on Tuesday to press ahead with its nuclear programme even as it expressed readiness to resume talks about the controversial issue despite being slapped with tough new EU sanctions.
In a move condemned by Iran and Russia, the European Union imposed fresh sanctions on the Islamic republic's key energy sector on Monday in a bid to halt its sensitive enrichment of uranium while applying pressure to resume talks on its atomic programme.
Canada followed suit, and the United States, which has led international efforts to curb Iran's nuclear drive, said the punitive steps would bite.
The Russian foreign ministry branded the EU sanctions "unacceptable."
In an interview with Iran's English-language Press TV President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said "Iran will resume nuclear talks with the West in September." But he added "Iran wants Turkey and Brazil to participate in the negotiations," in the comments posted on the channel's website late on Monday.
Brazil and Turkey refused to back sanctions against Tehran in June before the UN Security Council, where they are non-permanent members.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Iran "deeply regrets and condemns" the new EU sanctions, adding that they "will not help in resuming talks."
The EU sanctions "will not affect Iran's determination to defend its legitimate right to pursue a peaceful nuclear programme," Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
The EU sanctions follow similar measures meted out by the United States that go beyond the fourth set of sanctions that the United Nations imposed on June 9 over Iran's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.
They are aimed at reviving stalled talks between Iran and six world powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
Among their measures are a ban on the sale of equipment, technology and services to Iran's energy sector, and steps to hit activities in refining, liquefied natural gas, exploration and production, EU diplomats said.
New investments in the energy sector were also banned.
Russia, which has strong economic ties with Iran, said on Tuesday that the EU sanctions were "unacceptable," and showed "disregard for the carefully regulated and coordinated provisions of the UN Security Council."
The comments came despite a recent war of words between the two neighbours as Moscow has noticeably hardened its position, with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev saying Iran is close to having the potential to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran is the world's fourth largest producer of crude oil and has the second-largest reserves of natural gas after Russia, but imports 40 percent of its fuel needs because it lacks enough refining capabilities to meet domestic demand.
The development of its giant gas fields has been delayed due to a lack of investment the difficulties in procuring the required technology.
Several top global energy majors have already quit Iran, or have been considering an exit since the fresh set of UN sanctions.
The country's banking sector was also hit by restrictions, forcing any transactions of more than 40,000 euros (52,000 dollars) to be authorised by EU governments before they can go ahead.
The last high-level meeting between Iran and the six world powers was held in Geneva in October 2009 when the two sides agreed a nuclear fuel swap deal that has since stalled.
Western powers have demanded Iran suspend its uranium enrichment programme, fearing Tehran would use the material to build a nuclear bomb. Iran says its atomic programme is purely peaceful.
On Monday Iran responded to queries raised by the Vienna group of diplomatic powers -- France, Russia and the United States -- over a nuclear fuel swap proposal by Brazil, Turkey and Tehran.
Iran said it was ready for "prompt talks without any preconditions" over the fuel swap deal.
Ahmadinejad had announced on June 28 that he was freezing nuclear talks for two months in retaliation for the fourth set of Security Council sanctions.
© 2010 AFP