TEHRAN Iran will not agree to suspend uranium enrichment as demanded by the U.N. Security Council, which has given Tehran until February 21 to halt sensitive atomic work, the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
The United Nations slapped sanctions on Iran in December, barring the transfer of sensitive materials and know-how to the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. It threatened further action if Iran did not heed U.N. demands.
"Suspension is unacceptable. There are no grounds to do that. This issue belongs to the past. There is no legal and logical justification for that," spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a weekly news conference.
Iran previously suspended enrichment work under an agreement with European states that broke down in 2005.
Other top Iranian officials have also insisted Iran will press ahead with its nuclear program, which the West believes is a clandestine program to build atomic bombs. Iran denies this, saying it only wants to make fuel for power plants.
"Nuclear energy is the country's future and destiny," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's highest authority, was quoted by Etemad-e Melli newspaper as saying.
"If a nation does not care about its energy sources in the future, it must rely on arrogant powers (the West)," he said.
Iran sits on the world's second biggest oil and gas reserves but says it wants to build a network of nuclear power plants to prepare for the day when its energy supplies run out and to ensure it maximizes energy exports in the meantime.
Visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad renewed his country's support for Iran's nuclear activities, saying it was entitled to them as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
State television said that, in a joint Iranian-Syrian statement, "Syria expressed its support for Iran's peaceful nuclear program".
Iranian officials have indicated they might consider some compromise proposals, including one that Iran continue spinning the enrichment centrifuges it already has, but without injecting the uranium feedstock.
Diplomats say several Western countries oppose this idea because it could still help Iran to master the process.
Tehran has so far enriched tiny quantities of uranium to the low levels needed for power plant fuel. However, it has said it is determined to increase output by installing a network of thousands of centrifuges.