Iran Lashes Out on Nuclear Issue

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 18, 2005

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 17 -- In a defiant speech, peppered with anti-American rhetoric and veiled threats, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told world leaders at the United Nations on Saturday that his country will never give up its nuclear enrichment program.

He balked at intense pressure to avoid a crisis next week by returning to negotiations with the European Union over the nuclear program. Instead, he said Iran would seek new partners and warned that his country will not "cave in to the excessive demands of certain powers."

U.S. and European diplomats greeted the speech and comments the president made at a news conference afterward with deep disappointment, saying they fell far short of expectations. Several officials predicted they would help them win support from allies weighing whether to send Iran's nuclear case next week to the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose economic sanctions.

"What I heard today makes me predict that the option of reporting Iran to the Security Council remains on the agenda," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters even as Ahmadinejad was still speaking at the news conference.

Douste-Blazy and his British and German counterparts hoped Ahmadinejad's speech would include a renewed commitment from Iran to suspend much of its nuclear program and return to negotiations with the European Union.

The Bush administration and its European allies have struggled all week to convince other nations that the time has come to ratchet up pressure on Iran. But key countries of influence, including Russia, China and India, have said they want the issue dealt with outside the Security Council.

Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the U.N. gathering that it was time to increase pressure on the Islamic republic, which built its nuclear program in secret over 18 years.

"When diplomacy has been exhausted, the Security Council must become involved," Rice said.

Rice urged Iran to return to the European negotiations, but there was no such commitment from Ahmadinejad. Instead, the newly elected Iranian president delivered a staunchly anti-American speech, and hinted Iran could take its nuclear program in a different direction.

Iran says it plans to enrich uranium to fuel its nuclear energy program. But that same enrichment capability could produce bomb-grade uranium, and the White House and European countries want Iran to give that up.

"If some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resorting to the language of force and threats with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue," Ahmadinejad told the General Assembly.

"We believe we should not give up to bullying," he said later at a news conference.

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