TEHRAN: Iran on Tuesday denounced as "an antagonistic move" a tightening of US sanctions targeting Tehran’s central bank and giving US banks new powers to freeze Iranian government assets, and said it would have no impact.
In further defiance of world pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear program, parliamentarians said they would speed up passage of a bill to ban Iranian oil exports to the European Union well before an EU decision to bar Iranian crude would take effect.
The US sanctions step, in an executive order signed by President Barack Obama, was the latest measure against the Central Bank of Iran and was meant to close loopholes in existing sanctions Tehran has faced.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said such measures were doomed to fail. "It’s psychological warfare which has no impact… There is nothing new, it has been going on for over 30 years," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, referring to three decades of US-Iranian hostility.
Tension with the West rose last month when Washington and the EU took direct aim at the ability of OPEC’s No. 2 oil exporter to sell crude to force Tehran to rein in its nuclear work, which the West suspects is meant to yield atom bombs.
Iran said after the EU approved an oil embargo against Iran on Jan. 23 that it would fight such sanctions with its own sanctions. However, a parliamentary debate set for Jan. 30 on a proposed halt to crude sales to the EU was postponed.
But Obama’s move provoked Iranian parliamentarians, who said on Tuesday the assembly was ready to speed up passage of a bill to oblige the government to ban oil exports to some EU states – turning the tables on the EU which is to phase in its embargo on Iranian oil by July.
"In retaliation for the Zionist (Israel)-backed measure of the European countries to ban Iran oil, we are ready to impose a ban on oil exports to some European countries," lawmaker Mohammad Javad Karimi-Qoddusi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.
"The draft bill has been almost finalized. It will oblige the government to immediately cut oil exports to the EU. The bill also will ban import of any goods from the EU," lawmaker Parviz Sarvari told Fars, adding that the majority of MPs backed the urgent legislation bill.
No date for a vote on the measure was given.
Mehmanparast said the clerical establishment had no intention to change its nuclear course despite the mounting international pressure. Iran says it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity and not to develop weapons.
"Sanctions will not have any impact on our nuclear course and they (the West) will not achieve their aims," Mehmanparast said. "Our history has shown that sanctions, which are totally illogical, have accelerated our nation’s progress."
In a letter to Congress, Obama said Iranian banks were hiding transactions to undercut the financial sanctions the United States and other powers have imposed in response to Iran’s nuclear energy program.
Previously, US banks were required to reject, rather than block and freeze, Iranian transactions. Obama’s executive order requires American institutions to seize Iranian state assets they encounter instead of just turning them back.
The total value of Iranian assets that would be affected by the new ban was not clear, but Mehmanparast said "Iran does not have any financial transactions" with the United States.
Washington and its allies have been cranking up pressure on Iran to cut off the government’s access to capital and oil revenues with the goal of pushing Tehran back into negotiations to resolve the nuclear stand-off through diplomacy.
Mehmanparast said Iran would soon send a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton about a resumption of talks with major powers. "Iran has always welcomed fruitful and constructive talks … But we have always said that our (nuclear) rights are not negotiable," Mehmanparast said.
The last talks in January 2010 failed because of Iran’s refusal to halt its sensitive uranium enrichment work, as demanded by the UN Security Council and six world powers.
Washington and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve Iran’s nuclear row.
Iran has warned of a "painful" answer, saying it would hit Israel and US bases in the Gulf as well as block the vital Gulf oil shipping route through the Strait of Hormuz.
Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri, Ramin Mostafavi and Hashem Kalantari.