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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Iran Vows to Answer Western Sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran (AP)-- An Iranian official warned Sunday that Tehran would not remain passive if the West imposes sanctions against it over its disputed nuclear program, but did not say how the country would respond.

"Sanctions will have an impact on both sides and will have regional and international repercussions. If they choose sanctions we will decide accordingly," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini told journalists in a weekly briefing.

A draft resolution on Iran is expected to be introduced in the U.N. Security Council within days, and diplomats have said they would seek limited sanctions against Tehran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.

Hosseini did not elaborate on what actions Iran might take in response to sanctions. When asked, however, if Tehran could affect the movement of oil through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which some 20 percent of the world's supply passes every day, he replied, that "depends on the kind of sanctions."

In June, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened to disrupt the world's oil supply if Tehran is punished over its nuclear program. He said at the time the United States and its allies would be unable to secure oil shipments passing out of the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz to world markets.

At its narrowest point, the strait separating Iran from the Arabian peninsula is 44 miles wide.

On Saturday, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Manouchehr Mottaki, offered to hold new discussions with the West during which his government would explain its nuclear ambitions.

"Dialogue is the best way to reach an understanding," Mottaki said. "We are ready to hold talks about the reason for enrichment."

Mottaki did not suggest a time or venue for the discussions. The offer could complicate the U.S.-led drive for sanctions against Iran, but it was unlikely to halt it.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Sunday that dialogue with Iran over its nuclear program is "always possible," but he stressed there must be firmness and unanimity among the international community.

"We must be firm. The Iranians must understand that they cannot isolate themselves from the international community," Douste-Blazy said. "It's now or never."

He made no reference to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's statement Saturday that his country will not support measures that punish Iran or "promote ideas of regime change there." Measures "should encourage creating conditions for talks," Lavrov told Kuwait's news agency.

Russia _ along with the U.S., France, China and Britain _ has veto power on the 15-nation Security Council and could block sanctions.

The international community fears that Iran wants to use its nuclear program to develop weapons. However, Tehran insists the program is only for civilian and that, to this end, it has an intrinsic right to nuclear fuel.

Uranium enrichment is a key process to produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead.
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