June 25, 2008 / 9:34 AM / in 10 years

Iran to pull assets from EU over sanctions: minister

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran will withdraw assets from the European Union in response to the tightening of sanctions imposed over its nuclear program, Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari said in an interview published on Wednesday.

“We are going to withdraw the money and invest elsewhere,” Mahdi was quoted as saying by Austrian daily Die Presse.

“If you withdraw more than $100 billion, then of course this will bring about a scarcity of money and have an impact on the world economy.”

The 27-nation EU agreed new punitive measures on Monday targeting businesses and individuals the West says are linked to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic programs.

Iran has also been slapped with three rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program, which the West fears is secretly designed to build an atom bomb. Tehran says the program is aimed purely at civil power generation.

An Iranian monthly reported earlier in June that the Islamic Republic had withdrawn $75 billion in assets from Europe to prevent their being blocked under new sanctions. But Iran’s economy minister on Sunday played down the report “as yet not serious”.

The new EU measures include a freeze on the assets of Iran’s largest bank, Bank Melli, and visa bans on senior officials such as Revolutionary Guards head Mohammad Ali Jafari, Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar and atomic energy chief Gholamreza Aghazadeh.

Mahdi told Die Presse that Europeans would lose out as a result of the newly imposed measures.

“We have gas and oil resources everyone wants to buy. Now we are trading mostly with Asian countries,” he said.

“Previously our main partners were in Europe -- Germany, Italy, France, and also Austria. Now we have other partners.”

Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Editing by Catherine Evans

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