TEHRAN Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday his country would not stop enriching uranium and rejected as "illegitimate" a demand by major powers that it do so, the official IRNA news agency reported.
It was Ahmadinejad's first comment on the dispute since Iran delivered its response on Friday to a package of incentives offered by world powers seeking to curb its nuclear activities. Details of the response were not made public.
"They offer to hold talks but at the same time they threaten us and say we should accept their illegitimate demand to halt (enrichment work)," Ahmadinejad told reporters in Malaysia, where he was attending a summit of eight developing countries.
"They want us to abandon our right (to nuclear technology)," he said.
Iran's state broadcaster later quoted him as telling a gathering of Iranian expatriates: "We would not compromise the slightest on our rights ... if the enemies imagine they can force us to retreat through threats they are badly mistaken."
The United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany demand that Iran suspend its enrichment work before formal talks can start on their revised package, which includes help to develop a civilian nuclear program.
Iran, the world's fourth-biggest oil exporter, says its nuclear activities are peaceful. The United States and its Western allies suspect they are a cover to build atomic bombs.
Tehran has repeatedly refused to stop producing enriched uranium, which can be used as fuel for power plants, or, if refined much more, can provide material for nuclear weapons.
The offer of trade and other incentives proposed by the world powers was presented last month by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.
Iran has put forward its own bundle of proposals aimed at resolving the dispute and has said it was encouraged by common points between the two separate packages.
"TALKS TO BE CONTINUED"
After Iran's written response, Jalili spoke by telephone with Solana, stressing "common ground" and requesting a meeting.
Solana told reporters in Paris on Monday that he hoped to meet Jalili this month. "I hope we can continue the dialogue in the coming weeks," he added.
Major powers were still discussing the Iranian letter, Solana said, underlining his willingness to hold talks with the Iranians, but avoided raising expectations.
"I do not want to give you a completely optimistic impression. It is difficult," he said.
Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to discuss its nuclear ambitions but that the "language of threat" was futile.
"We are ready to discuss common subjects of the two packages. Talks should be held in a fair and just atmosphere," he said.
The nuclear dispute with Iran has raised fears of a military confrontation and helped send world oil prices to record highs.
Ahmadinejad dismissed talk of military action.
"The Iranian nation would break the hands and feet of anyone who would want to (attack Iran)," he declared.
(Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb in Tehran and Mark John in Paris; writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Alistair Lyon)