VIENNA — Sanctions imposed on Iran by the international community have had no impact on the Islamic republic's disputed nuclear activities, the country's envoy to the U.N. atomic watchdog said Friday.
Those feeling the brunt are instead the sick and elderly stuck on Iran Air planes that cannot refuel due to the restrictions, said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, a representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency. He insisted the Iranian people remain united behind the nuclear effort.
Soltanieh appeared to be referring to the fact that Western companies have stopped refueling Iranian planes in compliance with U.S. sanctions that Tehran says violate international law.
While Iran claims it is pursuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, the United States and its allies suspect it is trying to develop atomic arms. Iran is under four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to stop uranium enrichment, an activity that can lead to making both nuclear fuel and fissile warhead material.
On Monday, the European Union expanded its sanctions against Iran. Sanctions from the U.N. and EU include an asset freeze and travel bans on Iranian officials and companies with links to the nuclear program. Some also target Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Earlier this month, a report by U.N. experts said Iran is continuing to use front companies and other concealment methods to circumvent U.N. sanctions but that the bans have succeeded in slowing its nuclear and ballistic missile program.
"Please be assured that none of the sanctions has affected our nuclear activities," Soltanieh said in what he described as a message to the EU and diplomats in New York, home of the U.N. Security Council.
Instead, "you are harming Iranian passengers," Soltanieh said.
Soltanieh implied that the Stuxnet computer virus that affected some centrifuges at its main enrichment facility in the central city of Natanz had little effect on its nuclear work. Scientists immediately worked on antivirus software to protect against the malware, which Tehran blames on the United States and Israel, he said.
"No matter what, the Iranian people are more determined to continue," Soltanieh said.
He commented during a discussion of Iran's nuclear capabilities at Vienna's Diplomatic Academy just days after the IAEA said in a restricted report that it has received new information alleging that Tehran my be working on a nuclear weapons program.
Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who attended the event, said: "The totality of the evidence indicates beyond reasonable doubt that Iran also seeks a capability to produce nuclear weapons," but there is no evidence it has already done so.
Soltanieh said Iran doesn't want nuclear weapons because that would be a "strategic mistake." He said, "Without nuclear weapons, we are as strong and powerful as nuclear weapons states." He also said, "Are we hiding anything? No!"
German IAEA envoy Ruediger Luedeking told the discussion that if that's the case, then Iran should fully cooperate with international community. "Iran is not ready to address squarely the nuclear issue and that is something that needs to be addressed," he said.