Iran is being hit by a “war” on its economy, according to officials facing tightened US sanctions and renewed Israeli threats of imminent military action over Tehran’s nuclear activities.
“This is war,” Guardians Council Chairman Ayatollah Ahmad Janati said as he led Friday prayers in Tehran.
Iran needs to mobilize “the nation, government, officials and armed forces” to tackle its “special and serious economic problems,” which go beyond the global economic malaise, he said.
“We should prepare and break this wave [of economic pressure]. We should not surrender,” he said.
Janati said officials under the supervision of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were tackling the crisis, and he urged national media to avoid “pessimistic” stories and instead focus on news that “make people happy, hopeful and boost their morale.”
The US ramped up sanctions this week with a congressional measure to punish companies doing business with Iran’s energy and oil shipping sector, and an order by US President Barack Obama targeting Iran’s oil exports and one Chinese and one Iraqi bank alleged to be fronting Iranian banking transactions.
Existing Western sanctions, especially an EU embargo, are already taking their toll, nearly halving Iran crude sales, according to an International Energy Agency estimate.
China, the biggest buyer of oil still exported, has lashed out at the new US sanctions.
However, Obama’s spokesman said on Wednesday that while the sanctions are having “a significant effect,” Iran had “yet to make the choice it needs to make, which is to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.”
The US alleges Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon “break-out” capacity.
Tehran denies the charge, saying its atomic program is exclusively peaceful.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has renewed a threat to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu told visiting US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Wednesday: “However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them.”
He said that sanctions, and deadlocked negotiations between Iran and world powers, have not had “any impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
Khamenei last week underlined that, under the Western pressure, “not only will we not revise our calculations, but we will continue on our path with greater confidence.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed that when he said Iran had 11,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges operating — hundreds more than reported in a May 25 report by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.
However, signs of the impact of sanctions are piling up.
Iran’s currency, the rial, is trading at more than 20,000 to US$1 — around half of what it was worth a year ago. Abbas Memarnejad, the head of Iran’s Customs Organization, was quoted on the Web site of state broadcaster IRINN as saying that imports have fallen 7 percent in the past four months to US$17.3 billion, while non-oil exports had plummeted 16 percent to US$12 billion.
Iranian media have shown images of long lines of people waiting to buy subsidized chicken, after prices for the fowl have nearly tripled in the past year because of accelerating inflation.
A closed-door meeting of top Iranian government officials and lawmakers last week agreed to budget cuts as part of a strategy to mitigate the sanctions’ effects, Iranian Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini told official news agency IRNA.