Iran Nuclear NewsIran defiant on nuclear program as deadline approaches

Iran defiant on nuclear program as deadline approaches

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New York Times: Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Monday that his nation would continue to pursue its nuclear program “forcefully.” The remarks came one day before Iran’s self-imposed deadline for responding to an international package of incentives intended to persuade the nation to voluntarily stop enriching uranium. The New York Times

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

TEHRAN, Aug. 21 — Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Monday that his nation would continue to pursue its nuclear program “forcefully.” The remarks came one day before Iran’s self-imposed deadline for responding to an international package of incentives intended to persuade the nation to voluntarily stop enriching uranium.

In a speech to a group described by Iranian television news as “Islamic intellectuals,” Ayatollah Khamenei stayed consistent with Iran’s confrontational, no-backing-down tone while remaining vague in terms of substance. He gave no indication of what “forceful” meant, though over the past week, and again on Monday, officials said Iran would refuse to give up uranium enrichment.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has made up its mind based on the experience of the past 27 years to forcefully pursue its nuclear program and other issues it is faced with, and will rely on God,” he said in remarks reported on the Iranian state news. “Be patient, and hopefully we will taste a sweet outcome.”

Iran’s defiance was offered up on several fronts on Monday, even as officials here said that within 24 hours the leadership would give a formal response to the proposal offered by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. One official, in an interview with the Iranian Fars News Agency, said Tehran was moving ahead with plans to start up a “heavy water” plant that would feed a nuclear reactor.

Beyond that, The Associated Press reported that Iran turned inspectors away from a nuclear facility in Natanz, which would be a violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

One day earlier, Iran had held military exercises in which it test-fired surface-to-surface missiles during a second day of war games.

But amid the tough talk and missile firing, Tehran did not provide any details on how it would respond to the Western package of incentives. The West has accused Iran of wanting to develop weapons, while Iran has insisted that it is pursuing peaceful nuclear energy. Though Iran had initially spoken favorably about the package, its tone changed last month when it was ordered by the United Nations Security Council to halt enrichment by Aug. 31 or face political and economic sanctions.

“Arrogant powers and the U.S. are putting their utmost pressure on Iran while knowing Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Ayatollah Khamenei said Monday.

Iranian officials have also threatened to keep their nuclear work a secret — hidden from all public view — if the Security Council tried to force them to stop. Iran’s chief national security official and lead nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was quoted by Iranian television news earlier this month as saying that under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, “if we are threatened, we can act in secret.”

He said Iran would interpret sanctions as just that kind of threat.

Political analysts in Tehran with personal relationships with those in government and security agencies said they were expecting Iran to respond with what might be called a conditional approval of the package — accepting some elements in whole, calling for negotiating over others and rejecting the demand to stop uranium enrichment completely. They said the leadership was already preparing for sanctions but hoping that the room for additional negotiations would encourage China and Russia to help Iran buy time.

“As usual, nobody really expects Iran to give a definitive answer to the package,” said Mohammad Hossein Hafezian, a specialist on Middle East issues in Tehran. “It is very difficult for this system to make compromise — to reverse or retreat.”

For Iran’s leaders, the negotiations over its nuclear program are a flashpoint in an internal debate or conflict over how far to integrate the country into the international community in political, diplomatic and economic terms, analysts and diplomats here said.

Reaching an agreement with Europe and the United States on the program could open a door that the clerical leaders are not prepared to open, fearful that foreign investment and renewed diplomatic relations with the West would undermine their absolute authority and ideological grip on all of the levers of power.

In addition to responding to the offer of incentives, officials here said that next week President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would formally announce Iran’s decision on the demand that it stop enrichment by the end of the month. That announcement, however, is expected to be no different from Iran’s position has been so far: a refusal to suspend enriching uranium.

It is unclear how Iran would ultimately respond if it were saddled with biting sanctions. Analysts said there were rumors that if Iran were pushed to the wall, it might ultimately accept a Russian proposal to have enrichment conducted there.

As for the package, “I believe their response will be conditional rather than a yes,” said Nasser Hadian, a professor of political science at Tehran University, adding that while the Iranians will give assurances not to develop weapons, “they will refuse to suspend” enrichment.

Nazila Fathi contributed reporting for this article.

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