Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced defiance on Tuesday as a deadline neared for Iran to halt work the West fears is a step toward building nuclear bombs, and challenged US President George W. Bush to televized debate.
In a press conference, Ahmadinejad condemned the US and British role in the world since World War II but made no direct mention of the international nuclear confrontation.
“I suggest holding a live TV debate with Mr. George W. Bush to talk about world affairs and the ways to solve those issues,” he said.
A few days ago Ahmadinejad inaugurated a plant for the production of heavy water located in Arak, some 190 kilometers southwest of Tehran. The president made it clear that Iran would not ‘give up its right to develop its nuclear program,’ adding that the program does not pose a threat, not even against Israel.
“We do not threaten anyone, even the Zionist regime, which is the enemy,” he said.
The UN Security Council has given Iran until Thursday to suspend uranium enrichment—a process which can produce fuel for reactors or explosive material for warheads—and has threatened sanctions unless it does so.
'Action without council’s backing - an insult'
Washington has called for a swift response if Iran does not meet the deadline. But analysts say divisions at the United Nations about how to handle Iran’s file could delay such a move.
Iran has shown no sign it will halt enrichment. The world’s fourth largest oil exporter has shrugged off the threat of sanctions and said such a move would simply push oil prices up to intolerable levels for industrialized economies.
“If the Western countries have the intention to have comprehensive, long-term cooperation with Iran then they should not pursue imposing sanctions on Iran,” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said on state TV late on Monday.
Iranian president speaks (Photo: AP)
He also said Iran’s effort to master the nuclear fuel cycle was “irreversible”—echoing earlier comments by the president and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the highest authority in Iran.
Iran has said it is ready for immediate talks on its atomic plans but has refused to suspend enrichment before negotiations start, which was proposed in a package of incentives offered by the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany.
Russia and China, big trade partners of Iran who have veto powers in the UN Security Council, may oppose any move towards sanctions.
Washington, which already imposes unilateral sanctions on Iran, has suggested it could consider action outside the Security Council with other like-minded countries.
Iran has said action without the council’s backing would be an insult to the world body. Analysts say such a coalition might only have a limited impact on Iran if it did not include major trade partners, such as Germany, Italy and Japan.