TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Friday Iran should stand up to the world and pursue its nuclear program, after Tehran ignored a U.N. deadline to stop nuclear work the West says will be used to make atom bombs.
The U.N. Security Council had given Iran until February 21 to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can make fuel for power plants or material for warheads.
The U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Thursday Iran had not heeded the demand.
Still, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted on Friday that Washington was committed to diplomatic efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions and that those efforts could succeed.
“We’ve been very clear that we’re on a diplomatic path, that we believe the diplomatic path can succeed if the international community stays unified in confronting Iran,” Rice told a news conference in Ottawa.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany will meet in London next week to discuss possible further steps in addition to U.N. sanctions barring the transfer of nuclear technology and know-how that were imposed in December.
“If we show weakness in front of the enemy the expectations will increase but if we stand against them, because of this resistance, they will retreat,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech in northern Iran, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported.
The president has said that when Iran has compromised over a nuclear program, which it insists has only peaceful aims, the West had simply increased its demands.
Ahmadinejad is not the highest authority in the Islamic Republic, but his comments echo those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say and has said previously that Iran would press ahead with its nuclear ambitions.
Speaking in Vienna after meeting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei expressed concern Iran had not responded positively to the Security Council’s demands.
“We believe that the door is still open, that there is a window of opportunity for Iran and the international community to return to the negotiating table,” he told reporters.
ELBARADEI PUSHES FOR ‘TIMEOUT’
ElBaradei reiterated his proposal of a “timeout” in which Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and U.N. sanctions would be suspended to make a direct dialogue possible.
”We would expect to continue to pursue on Security Council track as well as pursue a track that would hopefully lead to negotiations, said Rice, in Ottawa for talks with her Canadian and Mexican counterparts.
Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking to ABC News on a trip to Australia, said the United States was keeping all options open in keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Tehran’s deputy U.N. envoy accused the United States, Britain and Israel of being “irresponsible” by using a Security Council session on nonproliferation on Friday to make “baseless allegations” against Iran.
“No one in today’s world can accept the unreasonable logic that it is OK for them to have nuclear weapons and threaten others with their massive arsenals and aggressive policies, while crying wolf about others’ peaceful nuclear program,” Deputy Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Danesh Yazdi told the council.
Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Western threats would not work.
“They will not get a result this way, it will just make problems for themselves, the world and especially our region,” he said in a Friday prayers sermon on state radio.
In the sermon, he also warned Iranians not to use language that would create more problems. “We should keep our unity. Extremist people should control their tongue because these days simple statements can also bring danger to the Islamic nation.”
His comments appeared a veiled reference to Ahmadinejad and his anti-Western speeches, which have been blamed by those in a more moderate camp of politicians, like Rafsanjani, for exacerbating Iran’s problems with suspicious Western nations.
Iran previously suspended uranium enrichment under an agreement with the EU but that broke down in 2005. The president said earlier this week Iran would only halt its nuclear fuel work if those making such demands did too.
Additional penalties Iran might face for ignoring the U.N. demand include a travel ban on senior Iranian officials and restrictions on non-nuclear business.
Analysts say harsher sanctions could face serious obstacles, as Russia, China and some EU powers prefer further dialogue with Iran to Washington’s push to isolate and punish.
Additional reporting by Berlin bureau, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations