TEHRAN, Iran - Iran said Monday it has barred 38 members of a U.N. nuclear inspection team from entering the country, in what appeared to be retaliation for sanctions imposed last month over its contentious atomic program.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said some inspectors were admitted, but maintained that Iran could decide who should be turned away.
"The International Atomic Energy Agency submits a long list of inspectors to member countries and the countries have the right to oppose the visit by some inspectors," Mottaki told the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
The head of the parliamentary committee of national security and foreign policy, Alaeddin Borojerdi, had been quoted by a students' news agency as saying Iran had barred 38 inspectors.
Last month, the U.N. Security Council imposed limited trade sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to cease uranium enrichment, a process that produces the material for nuclear reactors or bombs. Days later, the country's parliament passed a motion that obliged the government to revise its cooperation with the IAEA, but gave it a free hand to determine the steps to be taken.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its program is only to produce electricity from nuclear sources.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's has come under increasing criticism for drawing the enmity of the international community with his aggressive handling of the nuclear issue, including among some conservative allies who feel he has concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. speeches and not enough on the economy.
In comments published Monday, Iran's most senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, joined the criticism. He said Iranians have the right to nuclear power, but questioned Ahmadinejad's dealings with the international community in obtaining it.
"One has to deal with the enemy with wisdom, not provoke it," he said, according to a copy of his comments made available to The Associated Press. "This (provocation) only creates problems for the country," he told a group of reformists and opponents of Ahmadinejad on Friday in the holy city of Qom, 80 miles south of the capital Tehran.
Montazeri, 85, is one of a few grand ayatollahs, the most senior theologians of the Shiite Muslim faith. He had been the designated successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 Islamic revolution, until he fell out with Khomeini shortly before his 1989 death after complaining about powers wielded by unelected clerics.
Prices of fruit, vegetables and food staples have skyrocketed since the U.N. Security Council imposed the limited sanctions.
"Some countries don't have oil and gas. Yet, they run their country and stand on their own. We have so much oil and gas but make useless expenditures work for others and don't think of our own people's problems and the price of basic commodities go higher and higher every day," Montazeri said,
Montazeri appeared to be referring to Ahmadinejad's foreign trips, the latest of which was to Latin America, and to Iranian financial aid to the Palestinians.
The Palestinian foreign minister for the Hamas-led government said in November while visiting Iran that Tehran had given his government more than $120 million in the previous year.
On Sunday, the president told parliament prices of staples such as tomatoes were lower than some people claimed and told people to buy from his neighborhood, not high-priced shops elsewhere.
Ahmadinejad was elected last year on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment. His critics say he has failed to meet those promises and isolated Iran over the nuclear issue.
The European Union on Monday called on "all countries" to enforce the U.N. sanctions.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said a coordinated enforcement of the sanctions was important "to keep pressure on Iran to accept the offer of the international community to come back to the negotiating table."
She told reporters that the 27-nation EU would implement the sanctions "as speedily and effectively as we can."
EU officials said the bloc would implement the measures in early February.
Despite the domestic pressure on Amadinejad for his anti-American rhetoric, the hard-line leader again launched into criticism of the United States, describing U.S. accusations against his county of meddling in Iraq as the "most ridiculous" of Washington's charges against Iran, state media reported Monday.