ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A senior commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard claimed Friday that Western sanctions are helpful because they promote Iranian self-sufficiency and insisted the country's leaders should welcome the measures.
Oil and trade embargos have helped Iran reduce its reliance on the outside world, Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi told worshippers at Tehran University in a pre-sermon speech.
The remarks echoed the defiant mantra of Iranian conservatives who say the economy is strengthening and that Iran is developing more modern technologies -- including building missiles, drones, satellites and advancing its uranium enrichment program -- precisely because of the West's punitive measures.
Iran is under four sets of U.N. sanctions and stepped-up Western oil, banking and trade restrictions over its refusal to halt the enrichment -- a program that can be a pathway to nuclear arms.
The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop atomic weapons. Tehran denies the charge, insisting the country's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
The sanctions have cut sharply into Iran's oil sales, which account for 80 percent of the country's foreign currency revenue. At the same time, Iran has been barred from the major international banking systems, which has helped push the national currency to record lows and forced merchants to resort to hand-carrying gold and cash from the nearby commercial hubs of Istanbul or Dubai.
In his speech, Naqdi said a man who runs 100 meters in 20 seconds can finish it in 7 seconds if a wolf is chasing him, and that was the case for Iran.
In response to the Western sanctions, the government has embraced what it calls "resistance economy" -- promoting domestic products and stemming the outflow of dollars and other foreign currency.
And after the European Union enforced a total ban on oil imports from Iran in July, authorities countered by saying they would build new oil storage facilities so that Iran would be able to store its oil while it negotiates with foreign partners.
Iran has the world's third largest proven oil reserves and was OPEC's second largest exporter, but sanctions have stymied the flow since summer. Tehran slipped to the cartel's third place after the EU oil sanctions were enforced.
"What we could not achieve in about two decades was achieved in one and a half years," Naqdi said, citing gasoline production as an example. Iran had tried to be self-sufficient in gasoline production since 1991, but only said it achieved that level in 2010, two years after the first gasoline bans were imposed.
Iran is doing so well under the sanctions, Naqdi insisted, it should not seek to have them lifted.
"If I were in the place of authorities, I would not demand the lifting of the sanctions," he said. "I would instead tell our enemies to impose sanctions as much as they can, because we will discover our hidden capabilities."
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