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. Iran brushes off new UN sanctions threat
TEHRAN, March 1 (AFP) Mar 01, 2008
Iran on Saturday brushed off the prospect of new UN Security Council sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme, saying such measures would have no effect on its defiance of the world body.

"If they (the UN Security Council) think that they can apply pressure, it does not matter how many resolutions they issue," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a typically combative interview with state television.

"If they think they can force Iran to negotiate from a lower position, they should know that this era has come to an end and Iran has left the superpowers behind," he added.

His comments came after the UN Security Council on Friday put the finishing touches to a draft resolution imposing further sanctions over Tehran's refusal to heed UN demands to halt uranium enrichment.

The world body is expected to vote on the resolution on Monday.

"Reviewing Iran's case in the UN Security Council is illegal. It is like beating the air," added government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham, according to the official IRNA news agency.

The West fears that the know-how gained from uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities could give Iran the capability to make nuclear weapons, a charge vehemently denied by Tehran.

Iran insists its nuclear case is closed, referring to last month's report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which said it had made "quite good progress" in its four-year probe into Iran's nuclear programme.

But the IAEA said it could still not confirm if the Iranian atomic drive was peaceful, prompting the United States and its European allies to push for the new sanctions.

The UN vote was delayed until Monday so sponsors "can get as broad support as possible," diplomats said as Britain, France and Germany engaged in last-minute talks to try to win over four non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Vietnam, South Africa, Indonesia and Libya see fresh sanctions as counter-productive and worry they might prompt Iran to stop cooperating with the IAEA.

They note that the IAEA report spoke of progress in Iran's efforts to come clean on past nuclear activities.

But adoption of the text is a foregone conclusion as it has already been agreed by the five veto-wielding members of the council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

The sponsors also have enough support among the 10 non-permanent members to ensure passage, which requires nine votes and no veto.

China, a leading trading partner of Iran, said on Thursday that the new sanctions should not undermine trade. A Chinese energy firm was reportedly preparing to sign a 16-billion-dollar gas deal with Tehran.

US President George W. Bush, meanwhile, told Ahmadinejad that the international community would continue to isolate Iran, on the eve of the first visit to Iraq by a leader of the Islamic republic.

"The international community is serious about continuing to isolate Iran until they come clean about their nuclear weapons ambitions. That's why there will be action in the United Nations here early next week."

The latest sanctions are marginally tougher than those imposed in two previous resolutions adopted in December 2006 and March 2007.

The current draft includes an outright ban on travel by officials involved in Tehran's nuclear and missile programmes, and inspections of shipments to and from Iran if there are suspicions of prohibited goods.

It also calls "upon states to exercise vigilance in entering into new commitments for public-provided financial support for trade with Iran, including the granting of export credits, guarantees or insurance to their nationals involved in such trade."

Iran's banking system already suffers from unilateral sanctions by the United States, which has also persuaded major European and Asian banks to cut their dealings with Tehran.

Elham said that Iran's Central Bank had taken "serious preventive measures to protect national interests using international capacities."

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