Iran’s president on Tuesday dismissed the end-of-year deadline set by the Obama administration and the West for Tehran to accept a U.N.-drafted deal to swap enriched uranium for nuclear fuel, and claimed his government is now “10 times stronger” than a year ago.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks underscored Tehran’s defiance in the nuclear standoff —and also sought to send a message that his government has not been weakened by the protest movement sparked by June’s disputed presidential election. His comments came a day after the latest opposition protest by tens of thousands mourning a dissident cleric who died over the weekend.
President Barack Obama has set a rough deadline of the end of this year for Iran to respond to an offer of dialogue and show it will allay fears of weapons development. Washington and its allies are warning of new, tougher sanctions on Iran if it doesn’t respond.
The U.N.-proposed deal is the centrepiece of the West’s diplomatic effort. Under the deal, Tehran would ship most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium abroad to be processed into fuel rods, which would ease the West’s fears that the material could be used to produce a nuclear weapon.
Iran, which denies it seeks to build a bomb, has balked at the deal’s terms.
The international community can give Iran “as many deadlines as they want, we don’t care,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a speech to thousands of supporters in the southern city of Shiraz.
He dismissed the threat of sanctions, saying Iran wants talks “under just conditions where there is mutual respect.”
“We told you that we are not afraid of sanctions against us, and we are not intimidated,” he said, addressing the West. “If Iran wanted to make a bomb, we would be brave enough to tell you.”
As the crowd cheered: “We love you, Ahmadinejad,” the Iranian leader lashed out at Washington, vowing Iran will stand up against U.S. attempts to “dominate the Middle East.”
In Paris, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the chances of finding a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran were “never very significant” and that in the “worst case,” France will bring up the issue of new sanctions on Tehran.
“We all have talked about bringing that (sanctions) up before the end of the year,” Mr. Kouchner said, but also cautioned, “We mustn’t exaggerate the deadline. It’s not a cleaver, which would mean that after a certain day we wouldn’t speak to one another again.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed as a forgery a purported Iranian secret document that lays out a plan for developing a critical component of an atomic bomb. The document, first reported in the British newspaper Times of London, appears to describe a work plan for developing a neutron initiator, used to detonate a bomb. U.S. officials say its authenticity has not been confirmed.
Asked about the document in an interview with ABC News aired on Monday night, he said, “They are all a fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government.” He said the accusations that Iran seeks a weapon have “turned into a repetitive and tasteless joke.”
In his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Ahmadinejad also shrugged off Iran’s continued political turmoil since the June election, which the opposition says he won by fraud.
“The people of Iran and the government of Iran are 10 times stronger than last year,” he said. “I want the whole world to know it’s impossible for Iran to allow the United States to dominate the Middle East.”
Iran says its nuclear program is intended only to generate electricity and that it has a right to proceed with uranium enrichment, which the United Nations has demanded it suspend. The process can produce low-enriched uranium used to fuel a nuclear reactor — or higher enriched uranium, which is the basis for building a nuclear warhead.
Under the deal brokered by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency last month, most of Iran’s low-enriched uranium would be shipped abroad, where it would be enriched further to produce fuel rods. The rods would then be returned to Iran for use in a research reactor in Tehran, but it would not be possible to enrich them further to a high enough level to build a bomb.
Iran’s response has been unclear, with officials floating a number of alternative ideas for a swap — including carrying out the exchange simultaneously or in stages. At times, Tehran has threatened to reject it outright and enrich its own fuel rods, though last week Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran was still open to the idea of an exchange.