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 on the controversial issue despite being slapped with tough new EU sanctions.
In a move condemned by Russia, the European Union imposed fresh sanctions on Iran's key energy sector on Monday in a bid to halt its sensitive enrichment of uranium while applying pressure to resume talks on the atomic programme.
Canada followed the EU's example with its own sanctions, while the United States, which has led international efforts to curb Iran's nuclear drive, said the punitive steps would bite.
In an interview with Iran's English-language Press TV, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Islamic republic would "resume nuclear talks with the West in September."
But it wants Turkey and Brazil to take part in the negotiations, the hardline president said, in comments posted on the channel's website late on Monday.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tehran "deeply regrets and condemns" the new EU sanctions, although they would "not affect Iran's determination to defend its legitimate right to pursue a peaceful nuclear programme."
The EU sanctions follow similar measures meted out by the United States that go beyond a fourth set of UN sanctions 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 the EU 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, the bloc's diplomats said.
New investments in the energy sector have also been banned.
Russia, which has strong economic ties with Iran, said on Tuesday the EU sanctions were "unacceptable" and showed "disregard for the carefully regulated and coordinated provisions of the UN Security Council."
The comments came despite Moscow having hardened its position on Tehran, with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev saying Iran was close to having the potential to build a nuclear weapon.
Moscow is also helping Tehran build its first nuclear power station in the southern city of Bushehr in a project that does not fall under the UN sanctions.
The construction of the power plant is on schedule and preparatory work should be completed before September, the head of Russia's nuclear agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, said on Tuesday, quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
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 the refining capacity to meet domestic demand.
The development of its giant gas fields has been delayed due to a lack of investment and 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.
Ahmadinejad, who has been widely criticised at home over his economic policies, laughed off the unilateral EU and US sanctions.
"I think the policies by the Europeans and the Americans are ridiculous. They think they are going to influence the life of the Iranian society. In fact, they're imposing sanctions against themselves," he said in an interview Monday with CBS television.
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.
© 2010 AFP