TEHRAN Iran's president signaled defiance a day after U.N. monitors said Tehran was flouting demands to halt its sensitive nuclear work, saying on Thursday the Islamic state was close to achieving its "ultimate goals".
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the West of trying to stop Iran's atom program in order to reduce its influence in the world, but made clear it would not yield to the pressure.
Western powers suspect Iran is seeking to develop nuclear bombs, but Tehran says its activities are only aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more oil and gas.
"The enemies want us to surrender so that Iran won't have anything to say in the world," Ahmadinejad told a group of military commanders, according to the ISNA news agency.
"With the backing of the Iranian nation we are not afraid of the enemies' ... psychological warfare and with God's help we have come close to our ultimate goals," he said in the speech.
He spoke a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran was making substantial advances in uranium enrichment in defiance of world demands, opening the way to harsher sanctions against Tehran over fears it is seeking atom warheads.
Iranian officials said the IAEA report showed the country had successfully expanded its nuclear work and that it was peaceful, adding U.N. inspectors had access to its plants.
The deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Mohammad Saeedi, said IAEA inspectors were currently in the country, visiting the central town of Isfahan, site of a uranium conversion facility. He told state television they would then go to Natanz, where Iran's uranium enrichment plant is located.
Six world powers stand behind U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding Iran suspend all nuclear fuel work in exchange for negotiations on trade incentives, with the threat of escalating sanctions if Tehran keeps refusing.
Wednesday's findings by the IAEA came on the day nine U.S. warships sailed into the Gulf for maneuvers to display American impatience with Tehran, which it also accuses of backing insurgents in Iraq. Iran denies the charges.
IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said on Thursday that Iran was probably three to eight years away from producing a nuclear bomb if it so chooses and appealed for Tehran and the West to restart negotiations on a compromise as soon as possible.
But Iranian officials have repeatedly ruled out freezing uranium enrichment, which can be used to make nuclear power fuel or, if refined much further, provide material for weapons.
"The enemies' objective behind blocking Iran from using peaceful nuclear energy is not technical. On the contrary, they want to target the roots of the (Iranian) establishment's movement," Ahmadinejad said.
"Therefore, if we stop for one second, they will have achieved their goals," he said.