Iran's Ahmadinejad Hits Back at Nuclear Pressure
Paul Hughes and Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday angrily rejected international pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions hours after U.S. President George W. Bush vowed to prevent it making an atomic bomb.
The United States won agreement this week from a reluctant China and Russia at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members to back taking the Iranian nuclear issue to the council, a step that could ultimately lead to sanctions.
Ahmadinejad, addressing a crowd of thousands in the Gulf port city of Bushehr, lost no time in hitting back:
"I am telling those fake superpowers that the Iranian nation became independent 27 years ago and ... on the nuclear case it will resist until fully achieving its rights," he said.
A decision on whether to report Iran to the council will be taken by a meeting of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Thursday in Vienna.
Iran says its nuclear plants will be used only for peaceful applications such as electricity generation.
Iran's parliament issued a statement on Wednesday reminding the government that, under a law approved last year, it must halt snap U.N. inspections of its atomic facilities and resume uranium enrichment -- a process that can yield bomb-grade material -- if its case is referred to the Council.
Bush said the world must act together to prevent Iran joining the list of nuclear-armed nations.
"The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions -- and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons," Bush said in his annual State of the Union address.
"America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats."
OIL PRICE FEAR
Oil ministers from the OPEC cartel warned on Tuesday that sending Iran's case to the Security Council could cause a spike in already sizzling oil prices.
But Iran eased concerns it could use its status as the world's fourth biggest crude oil producer as a weapon in the dispute by curtailing its exports.
The IAEA said in a confidential report on Tuesday that Iran had already begun preparing for uranium enrichment and continued to hinder the U.N. watchdog's inquiries into its atomic activities.
The big U.N. powers said a crisis meeting of the 35-member IAEA board on Thursday should "report to the Security Council on the steps required from Iran".
But they said the council should wait until IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei reports on Iran's nuclear program at a scheduled IAEA meeting on March 6 before deciding on any action.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in a newspaper interview on Wednesday that the U.N. Security Council could decide to impose sanctions.
"In March, the Security Council will be able to act, if necessary. The complete range of sanctions is conceivable," he told the French daily Le Parisien.
LITTLE SIGN OF COMPROMISE
The wait until March will give Tehran a few more weeks to try to negotiate a way out of the crisis, though it showed little sign of compromise.
"Our nation cannot step back because of the bullying policies of some countries in the world," Ahmadinejad said in his speech, parts of which were broadcast on state television.
The large crowd responded with shouts of "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!".
Deputy foreign ministers from Russia and China headed to Iran on Wednesday to inform it of "the concerns of the international community" about the removal of U.N. seals this month at a uranium enrichment facility, the Russian Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Four years ago Bush used his State of the Union address to name Iran with North Korea and Iraq as nations that "constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world".
With all sides engaged in high-stakes negotiations, he avoided such language on Tuesday, although he described Iran as "a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people".
Ahmadinejad fired back that Bush himself was a criminal.
"Those whose arms are stained up to the elbow with the blood of other nations are now accusing us of violating human rights and freedoms. God willing, we shall drag you to trial," he said. READ MORE
(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich and Francois Murphy in Vienna, Parisa Hafezi and Parinoosh Arami in Tehran, Madeline Chambers in London, Richard Balmforth in Moscow)