Iran says West fails to stop nuclear advances
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Western pressure has failed to stop Iran's nuclear program from advancing, its president said on Wednesday, a day after the United States and the European Union warned of more sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced defiance just a few days before EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is expected to travel to Tehran to offer economic and other benefits to Iran if it gives up sensitive atomic work.
Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, has repeatedly ruled out suspending nuclear activities which it says are solely aimed at generating electricity but which the West suspects are a covert bid to make bombs.
"With God's help today (the Iranian nation) have gained victory and the enemies cannot do a damned thing," Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
The United States and the 27-nation EU, at a summit in Slovenia, said on Tuesday they were ready to impose more sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program on top of three rounds of limited U.N. sanctions since late 2006.
Washington has pressed the EU to deny some Iranian banks access to the world financial system. European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said further EU steps could entail a freeze on Iranian bank assets.
Iran, which says it earned about $70 billion in oil revenue last year, has shrugged off the impact of Western punitive measures on its economy.
An Iranian newspaper this week said Iran was withdrawing assets from European banks and converting some of them into gold and stocks in a bid to neutralize tightening sanctions.
"They've tried by military threats ... and political pressure to stop you from your luminous path but today they have seen that all their planning has failed," Ahmadinejad told the crowd in the western city of Shahr-e Kurd.
"Today the Iranian nation is standing on the nuclear height," said Ahmadinejad, who often attacks the West.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- and Germany agreed last month on an enhanced package of incentives to coax Iran into giving up nuclear enrichment.
Solana is expected to travel to the Iranian capital within the next week to present the package to Iranian officials, but he has played down prospects of a breakthrough.
In 2006, the six countries offered incentives including civil nuclear cooperation and wider trade in civil aircraft and energy but Tehran spurned that offer.
Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for power plants or, if refined much further, provide material for arms.
U.S. President George W. Bush, attending his last summit with the 27-nation EU, said on Tuesday that an "Iran with a nuclear weapon would be incredibly dangerous for world peace."
Ahmadinejad said Bush's "era has ended" and that Iran's foes would not be able to "harm even a centimeter" of its territory.
(Editing by Peter Millership)
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