Iran Moves on Enrichment Despite Sanctions
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Iran's parliament has responded to the U.N. Security Council's decision to impose sanctions against that country. Yesterday, Iran's oil minister suggested that it might use its vast oil exports as a weapon. Earlier, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad labeled the U.N. resolution illegal and he vowed to speed up nuclear enrichment. The sanctions that the Security Council unanimously approved involved restricting Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear materials and technology.
For reaction inside Iran, we go to reporter Roxanna Saberi, who is in Tehran. Hello.
ROXANA SABERI: Hello, Renee.
MONTAGNE: What came out of the parliamentary debate on what to do about these sanctions?
Ms. SABERI: Well the parliament did just vote to urge the government to revise its ties with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, and also to accelerate Iran's nuclear program. They did stop short of calling for cutting off relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but their move did put that agency on notice, but business won't be as usual.
So in this move, the significance is, that it's likely to put pressure on the government or to give the government a freer hand to reduce Iran's cooperation with the agency. That could mean pulling out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or it could mean limiting U.N. inspections of Iran's atomic sites. But the law still has to be ratified by the Guardian Council here in Iran, which is a constitutional watchdog.
MONTAGNE: What about people on the streets? How are they reacting to these sanctions?
SABERI: Well, there's a mix of reactions. There are some who are very worried, especially about their businesses that are involved in import/export or involved in foreign investments. Also, ordinary Iranians, a lot of them think that the rise in prices of everyday goods like meats or housing prices and rent, they think it's tied to the increasing tensions over Iran's nuclear program.
But there are other Iranians who don't care. They say that Iran should continue down the nuclear path, and they believe that Iran needs nuclear energy even if there's a lot of pressure on Iran to stop its sensitive nuclear activities.
MONTAGNE: Now the Security Council resolution is far tamer than the one that was sought by the United States. What exactly does it do? And how much of a punishment are these restrictions?
SABERI: They are much tamer, you're right, than the ones that the U.S. was hoping for. And a lot of economists and observers say that sanctions won't have a serious impact unless they target Iran's oil industry. But these sanctions call on nations to ban materials and technology that could contribute to Iran's enrichment activities, and uranium enrichment is the key step in the nuclear field process.
And also they're supposed to ban materials that can help Iran develop a nuclear weapon's delivery system like ballistic missiles. It does also impose a freeze of funds for certain people and organizations that are associated with Iran's nuclear and missile programs. But it is, once again, much softer than the U.S. had wanted. It eliminated a travel ban of certain people on that list and also it exempts an $800 million nuclear reactor that Russia is helping Iran build in Bushehr.
MONTAGNE: Well do these sanctions have, though, then an economic impact?
SABERI: You know, a lot of economists here are saying that they don't have a direct impact or an immediate impact, but it's more psychological effect. A lot of people worry that these are just the first of many sanctions; maybe they'll get worse. And even just the threat of possible sanctions over the past several months, these economists say they have - has hurt the economy here in Iran.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
SABERI: Thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: Roxanna Saberi is a freelance reporter speaking from Tehran.
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