TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) -President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a defiant yet vague tone on Sunday, telling Iranians during the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that their country would not give up uranium enrichment but was prepared to talk with the international community.
The hard-line leader’s remarks, which came days before a U.N. Security Council deadline demanding Tehran halt enrichment or face further sanctions, fell short of an expected announcement that Iran had started installing 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium at its Natanz plant.
“The Iranian nation on Feb. 11, 2007, passed the arduous passes and stabilized its definite (nuclear) right,” Ahmadinejad said. He did not elaborate or explain what his comments meant.
Ahmadinejad, however, also said Iran was ready for “dialogue,” and his country’s program would remain within the limits of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that bans production of nuclear weapons.
“We are prepared for dialogue but won’t suspend our activities. … The government will defend the rights of the Iranian nation within the framework of the law,” he said.
While Iran insists it will not give up uranium enrichment, the United States and some of its allies fear the Islamic republic is more interested in enrichment’s other application — creating the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
At a security conference in Germany, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said Sunday its nuclear program is not a threat to Israel or any other nation.
“That Iran is willing to threaten Israel is wrong,” Larijani said. “We pose no threat and if we are conducting nuclear research and development we are no threat to Israel. We have no intention of aggression against any country.”
Ahmadinejad said Iran’s nuclear technology advances will gradually be made public over the course of the next two months until April 9. He did not explain what would happen on that date, but it marks the one year anniversary of Iran’s announcement that it had enriched uranium for the first time.
“Until April 9, 2007, you will witness the great advances of the Iranian nation … especially in the field of nuclear technology,” he said.
The Iranian leader suggested last week that Tehran would announce that it had begun installing a new assembly of 3,000 centrifuges in an underground portion of its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz that the U.S. and some of its allies fear could be used to build nuclear weapons.
Had Ahmadinejad made such a provocative announcement, it would have heightened tensions between Iran and the West. It is widely believed Ahmadinejad listened to moderate voices within the ruling Islamic establishment telling him not to do so.
“After the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran last December, Ahmadinejad has come under pressure at home and abroad to moderate his tone. He refused to make that announcement not to further provoke the West at this crucial time,” political analyst Iraj Jamshidi said.
The Security Council has threatened to impose further sanctions on Iran later this month if it refuses to roll back its program.
Ahmadinejad’s comments Sunday were part of a speech that was broadcast live during nationwide rallies marking the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
On Feb. 11, 1979, Iran’s imperial armed forces withdrew support for the U.S.-backed monarchy and declared its allegiance to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after a popular peaceful uprising throughout Iran. Khomeini’s followers seized control of the capital and two months later declared Iran an Islamic republic.
Sunday’s rallies also were a referendum of sorts on the country’s nuclear program. Ahmadinejad’s government, whose nuclear diplomacy has been criticized domestically by both reformers and conservatives in recent weeks, wanted to show that the nation stands united behind him despite mounting pressures from the West.
“On the basis of the law, we have the right to possess the full (nuclear) fuel cycle,” Ahmadinejad said, addressing hundreds of the thousands of Iranians who gathered in a Tehran square.