TEHRAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday dismissed the West's year-end deadline for Iran to accept an enrichment fuel deal aimed at calming international fears about its nuclear program.
If Iran misses the deadline for agreeing to ship most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad in exchange for fuel for a Tehran research reactor, Washington has made clear it intends to pursue harsher sanctions against Iran in the United Nations.
"Who are they to set us a deadline?" Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech in the southern city of Shiraz.
"We set them a deadline that if they do not correct their attitude and behavior and literature we will demand from them the Iranian nation's historic rights," the hardline president told the crowd, without elaborating.
In Washington, U.S. officials said the major powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany -- conferred by telephone on Tuesday as they debate their next steps.
Iran, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, says its uranium enrichment program is solely aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more gas and oil.
Due to its record of nuclear secrecy, the West believes Iran wants to make atomic bombs.
Enriched uranium can be used both as fuel for nuclear power plants and, if refined much further, provide bomb material.
The U.N.-drafted fuel deal is designed to allay international concern over Iran's nuclear work by shipping most of its LEU abroad, but the Islamic Republic says it will only agree to a fuel swap inside its borders.
It now looks very unlikely that Iran will agree to the deal before the end of the year.
"Mr. Ahmadinejad may not recognize, for whatever reason, the deadline that looms, but that is a very real deadline for the international community," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday.
"The decision for them to live up to their responsibilities is their decision," said Gibbs. "We have offered them a different path. If they decide not to take it, then the (major powers) will move accordingly."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said officials from major powers would talk into the new year and the focus would shift from carrot to stick as the group moves toward putting specific sanctions on the table.
"We'll send a very clear and compelling signal to Iran that there are consequences," he said.
Ahmadinejad dismissed Western allegations about Iran's nuclear ambitions, saying: "You should know that if we had any intention of building a bomb, we would have had enough guts and courage to announce that without any fear from you."
"FABRICATED BUNCH OF PAPERS"
Seeking to turn the tables on Iran's old foes, he said the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Israel should be dismantled. The Jewish state is assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic weapons.
"They must know that the Iranian nation and all the world's nations will continue resisting until the complete (nuclear) disarmament of America and all arrogant powers," he said.
In an interview with a U.S. news program broadcast on Monday, Ahmadinejad said a memo appearing to show Tehran's efforts to design an atomic bomb trigger was forged by the United States.
Ahmadinejad was asked by ABC News about a report in London's Times newspaper last week on what it said was a confidential Iranian technical document describing a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the part of a warhead that sets off an explosion.
"They are all fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government," he said.
On December 14, The Times published what it said was the Farsi-language document, with an English translation.
The document described steps to develop and test parts for a neutron initiator, a device that floods the core of highly enriched uranium with subatomic particles to set off the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion. (Additional reporting by Deborah Charles, Patricia Zengerle Andrew Quinn and Paul Eckert in Washington; Editing by Jon Hemming)