TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Western sanctions an “invasion” Saturday after Washington imposed new penalties over the country’s contested nuclear program, though he promised negotiations with world powers would go on.
The U.S. imposed sanctions Friday on more than 25 businesses, banks and individuals it said it suspected of working to expand Iran’s nuclear program, supporting terrorism and helping the Islamic Republic evade U.S. and international sanctions. The sanctions bar Americans from engaging in transactions with any of the designated parties, freeze their assets and block their property under U.S. jurisdiction.
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Speaking to officials Saturday, Rouhani criticized the sanctions.
“Sanctions are an invasion of the Iranian nation. We should resist the invasion and put the invaders in their place,” Rouhani said in remarks broadcast by state TV. “We should not allow the continuation and repetition of the invasion.”
However, Friday’s action did not constitute an expansion of the sanctions regime, but rather the enforcement of existing sanctions.
Later Saturday, Rouhani told journalists at a news conference that the sanctions would not thwart the nuclear talks with world powers, though he called those affecting the country’s pharmaceutical companies a “crime against humanity.”
Rouhani also said he didn’t know whether he would attend next month’s U.N. General Assembly and said he had “no plan” to meet U.S. President Barack Obama there. Last year, the two leaders spoke by telephone, the first direct conversation between leaders of the two countries since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The West long has suspected Iran of trying to build an atomic weapon through its nuclear program. Iran has said its program is for peaceful purposes, like medical research and generating electricity.
Last November, world powers and Iran reached an interim deal over the nuclear program, which called for Iran to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for an easing of some economic sanctions. Both sides are now negotiating a final deal.
Already this month, Iran announced work was underway to redesign its nearly completed Arak heavy water reactor so it produces less plutonium, a key sticking point in negotiations. It also recently inaugurated a new plant to convert a type of uranium into a material that cannot be used to make nuclear weapons, another point in talks.
Voters elected Rouhani last year after he promised to engage the West diplomatically in order to get the sanctions lifted. But he has faced criticism from hard-liners who say he has conceded too much in the nuclear talks.
During his news conference, Rouhani also touched obliquely on the advance of the Islamic State group in Iraq, saying that Iran had “no plan to co-operate” with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.
“In our viewpoint, crime is crime,” Rouhani said. “If some say we only fight terrorism if an American is killed, it only indicates they are not serious in fighting.”