TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday the latest EU sanctions on the sale of Iranian oil are "the strongest" measures yet imposed on the country.
The embargo, which comes on top of a fresh round of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's vital oil sector, is the latest move in the West's standoff with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
In his first comments since the EU ban on the purchase of Iranian oil took effect Sunday, Ahmadinejad said "the sanctions imposed on our country are the strongest ones that have ever been applied against a country."
"Our enemies assume that they are able to corner Iran in a weak position with these sanctions," he said, according to state TV.
But he added that Iran should view the EU ban "as an opportunity to wean the country's budget off its dependence on oil revenues," saying that would "remove the weapon of oil from the enemy's hand forever."
Iran is the second largest OPEC oil producer, producing about 4 million barrels of oil a day. The country relies on oil exports for about 80 percent of its foreign revenues. However, a large portion of Iran's crude production is used domestically.
The EU embargo, combined with the fresh U.S. measures that prohibit the world's banks from completing oil transactions with Iranian banks, significantly ratchet up the pressure on an Iranian economy already squeezed by previous rounds of sanctions.
There are signs that the measures are taking a toll on Iran's already shaky economy. This week, Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said authorities had stockpiled imported goods and hard currency to help cushion the blow to the economy.
The U.S. and EU imposed the sanctions to pressure Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington and its allies suspect is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Iran denies the allegations, and says its program is solely for peaceful purposes, such as producing energy and medical isotopes.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the sanctions would not affect Iran's nuclear activities, but they might damage nuclear talks between Iran and the West.
"As long as they wrongly imagine that imposing illegal and illegitimate sanctions would make us back off on our rights and they can talk down to us in negotiations, such an attitude will definitely have a negative impact on the success of the talks," he said.
Low-level technical talks between Iran and the world powers opened Tuesday in Istanbul, Turkey. That follows three rounds of nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers that have failed to produce a breakthrough.