TEHRAN Iran's trade minister said Monday sanctions were hitting the economy but warned Western countries threatening to tighten the measures that they were harming their own interests.
In a change of tone from Tehran's usual line that sanctions have not damaged the economy, Minister of Industry, Mine and Commerce Mehdi Ghazanfari said the West was losing out too.
"Sanctions are a lose-lose game in which both side make a loss. If they don't invest in our oil projects, they will lose an appealing market," Ghazanfari told a news conference.
The comments came ahead of an expected announcement by the U.S. Treasury Department later Monday designating Iran an area of "primary money laundering concern" a move allowing it to take steps to further isolate Iran's financial sector.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has often said sanctions are having little effect on the economy and in some cases have made it stronger by making Iran find domestic solutions to economic challenges.
Ghazanfari reiterated the stance that Iran had found alternatives to Western imports and investments, but did not deny the downside.
"Facing hardship in a fight is inevitable. I admit projects will get harder as our trading costs will go up, delays will hit projects and money transfer will get harder," he said.
"There is a difference between hardship and the impossible. (Sanctions) will never make the running of the country impossible. There are dozens of possible ways for us to connect to the world and we are not yet using all of them."
The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran since 2006 but Russia and China oppose any further ones, leaving the United States to issue unilateral measures and pressure its allies to follow suit.
After the U.N.'s atomic agency said last week the Islamic state appeared to have worked on designing an atom bomb, Washington has lined up new sanctions on Iran's petrochemical industry, sources have told Reuters.
Ghazanfari said several Western countries remained major trading partners for Iran, citing Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy among the top ten countries exporting to Iran.
(Writing by Ramin Mostafavi; Editing by Rosalind Russell)