TEHRAN, Iran --Iran is barring 38 inspectors from entering the country in retaliation for a United Nations resolution aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program, a senior Iranian lawmaker said yesterday.
The announcement came days after Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Iran's senior dissident cleric, criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's defiant stance against the West on the nuclear issue in a speech Friday, calling it provocative. His comments were the first direct public attack on the president's nuclear policy by such a senior cleric.
The two developments suggest an increasingly open debate within Iran over how forcefully to confront the West over Iran's nuclear ambitions, even as its government continues to defend them.
Two hard-line newspapers, including one owned by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have called on the president to stay out of nuclear matters. Montazeri said Iran has the right to nuclear technology, but questioned the way Ahmadinejad has confronted the West.
"One has to deal with the enemy with wisdom. We should not provoke the enemy; otherwise, the country will be faced with problems," he said.
"We should get our right in a way that it does not create problems or excuses for others," he said. "Besides, is this our only irrefutable right and we have no other rights?" he asked referring to the rising inflation since Ahmadinejad took office more than a year ago.
Montazeri was once in line to become Iran's supreme religious leader until he was banished and put under house arrest for his criticisms. His comments reflect the growing concern that more economic sanctions might be imposed if Iran continues to defy the international demand to halt uranium enrichment.
The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution Dec. 23 and imposed sanctions barring the trade of goods related to Iran's nuclear program. It also gave Iran a deadline of two months to halt uranium enrichment or face tougher sanctions.
In response, Iran's parliament passed a bill last month calling on the government to limit cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
"The committee has decided to bar 38 inspectors from coming to Iran, and we have announced the new limitation to the agency," said Alaedin Boroujerdi, the head of parliament's committee for foreign policy and national security, Iran's official ISNA news agency reported. The nuclear agency's inspectors visit Iran's nuclear facilities regularly. But last summer Iran said it had decided not to let some of them return.
Still, Boroujerdi said Iran plans to continue cooperation with the agency and that Iran would remain a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
An IAEA spokeswoman, Melissa Flemming, said the agency was confident that it could continue to monitor Iran's nuclear program.
"There are a sufficient number of inspectors designated for Iran, and the IAEA is able to perform its inspection activities in accordance with Iran's Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement," she said in a statement released by the agency.
Ahmadinejad vowed again Sunday that Iran would continue its nuclear program and brushed off the U.N. resolution as insignificant.
But yesterday in Brussels, Belgium, foreign ministers of the European Union called on all countries to enforce the sanctions against Iran. The British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said a collective application of the sanctions was essential "to keep pressure on Iran to accept the offer of the international community to come back to the negotiating table."
EU officials said they would apply the measures next month, including a ban on selling materials and technology that could be used in Iran's nuclear and missile programs and the freezing of assets of 10 Iranian companies and individuals.
Ahmadinejad said the sanctions would not prevent his country from continuing its nuclear program, which the United States and the European Union contend is being used to make nuclear weapons and which Tehran says is only for civilian use.
Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said it was time to take a tough and united stance on Iran, but he kept the option of diplomacy open.
"There is a need to send a clear signal, and we need to show resolve," he said.