Iran's most powerful military force, the Revolutionary Guard, said Monday it was not worried by the latest U.N. sanctions that seek to undercut its reach and stall the country's nuclear program.
The defiant remarks by senior Guard commander General Hossein Salami were the group's first reaction since the Security Council last week imposed the toughest sanctions yet in response to Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
The Guard has a direct hand in Iran's nuclear research as well as nearly ever critical economic and defense project, including missile technology and Iran's vital oil industry.
The Guard's power has further expanded since last June's disputed elections after it took charge of the crackdown against opposition forces - leading U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to claim earlier this year that Iran was moving toward a "military dictatorship."
The new U.N. sanctions seek to disrupt the Guard's money flow and areas of influence. They call for an asset freeze on 40 additional companies and organizations: 15 linked to the Guard, 22 involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.
The sanctions came after months of efforts to press Iran to accept a U.N.-drafted plan to swap low-enriched uranium for reactor-ready fuel. Iran, instead, responded last month with a separate plan backed by Turkey and Brazil, but it did not mandate a halt on uranium enrichment sought by the West and allies. The United States and other nations fear that Iran will continue to upgrade its uranium enrichment program until it can produce a nuclear weapon. Iran says it only seeks energy and research reactors and has the right to enrich uranium under international accords. The Revolutionary Guard commander Salami said Iran has shaped its defense capabilities "on the basis of the worst case scenarios" and that sanctions won't stop Iran's program.
"The level, format, volume and severity of sanctions is not worrying for us," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
Despite the increased international tensions over the sanctions - supported by key Iranian trading partners Russia and China - Western envoys still hold out hope for a diplomatic solution. European Union officials said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has invited Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, to talks on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
A diplomat said Iran is expected to respond positively to the proposal, with the talks being held sometime over the summer. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
But EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg are also looking at imposing their own set of sanctions against Tehran. A draft document said these should target the financial and transport sectors, as well as investments in its oil industry. Under the latest U.N. resolution, Iran is banned from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons," investing in nuclear-related activities such as uranium mining, and buying eight categories of heavy weapons, including attack helicopters and missiles.
While experts say sanctions can make life more difficult _ technically, financially and politically _ for Iran, Salami said Iran has got used to living under sanctions for three decades since the first wave of U.S. embargoes after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. "We've always been subject to sanctions. The Iranian nation and the Guard has experienced life under 31 years of sanctions ... and has achieved self-sufficiency. It is the outside world, not Iran, that will lose from sanctions," IRNA quoted him as saying.