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World News

Iran says oil sanctions threat "a joke"

TEHRAN (Reuters) - The idea of international sanctions on Iranian oil exports is a joke, a senior Iranian official said on Tuesday, adding Iran would not abandon its disputed nuclear work despite mounting international pressure.

Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields with an Iranian flag in the foreground in the Persian Gulf, 1,250 km (776 miles) south of the capital Tehran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing for new U.N. sanctions in the coming weeks to pressure Iran to stop its sensitive nuclear activities, which Washington and its European allies believe is a cover to develop bombs.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said restricting Iran’s oil and gas exports -- an idea not included in the latest proposals agreed by Western powers -- was “illogical” and that all sanctions would fail.

“Countries need oil to guarantee their economic growth ... talking about imposing sanctions on Iran’s oil sector is like a joke,” Ramin Mehmanparast told a weekly news conference. “Such a move would hurt other (importer) countries.

“Imposing sanctions on Iran is illogical and a politically-motivated measure ... Iran will never abandon its nuclear activities because of sanctions.”

The United States already bans imports of Iranian energy, but the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter has willing buyers around the world. Crude hit an 18-month high near $87 on Monday, reflecting growing confidence of an economic upturn.

A senior executive at the National Iranian Oil Company said on Monday sanctions that disrupted the supply of crude oil would “lead to the intensification and prolongation of the economic recession (in consumer countries).”

The latest draft proposals agreed by the United States, Britain, France and Germany include restrictions on new Iranian banks established abroad and on insurance of cargo shipments to and from Iran.

Commenting on potential restrictions on Iran’s petroleum imports, Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi said the country had the refining capacity to avoid that being a massive blow.

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“Iran has the capability to produce fuel in case of emergency,” he was quoted as telling Iranian state radio.

OBAMA WANTS “BITE”

In an interview in Tuesday’s New York Times, Obama said he wanted a U.N. sanctions resolution “that has bite” to pressure Iranians over a nuclear program he said “would provide them with nuclear weapons capabilities.”

Announcing new limits on the conditions under which the United States could use nuclear weapons, Obama said it would not apply to “outliers like Iran and North Korea.”

Iran denies it is trying to make nuclear weapons and says it is developing purely peaceful nuclear technologies. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he is still open to negotiate with foreign powers, but under strict conditions.

Mehmanparast said he hoped Russia would fulfill an Iranian order for a missile defense system which Israel and the United States do not want it to have.

Analysts say the S-300 could help Iran thwart any attempt by Israel or the United States -- which have refused to rule out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the atomic row -- to bomb its nuclear facilities.

Mehmanparast accused Washington of kidnapping an Iranian nuclear scientist who, according to U.S. media, chose to defect.

ABC News reported last week that nuclear physicist Shahram Amiri, who disappeared during a pilgrimage to Mecca in June, had defected to the United States and was helping the CIA.

“America’s connection with Amiri proves what we said in the past, that American intelligence services were involved in this kidnapping,” Mehmanparast said.

Editing by Janet Lawrence

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