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Iran's leader vows not to scrap country's nuclear program

US, Europe voice disappointment

UNITED NATIONS -- In a speech peppered with anti-US rhetoric and veiled threats, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said at the United Nations yesterday that his country would not give up its nuclear program.

He balked at 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 partners, and warned that Tehran would not ''cave in to the excessive demands of certain powers."

US and European diplomats voiced deep disappointment at the speech and at comments the new president made at a news conference afterward.

Several officials said Ahmadinejad's comments would help them win support from allies weighing whether to send Iran's nuclear case next week to the UN Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions.

''What I heard today makes me predict that the option of reporting Iran to the Security Council remains on the agenda," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy of France said.

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Douste-Blazy, the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, had attended Ahmadinejad's speech in hope of hearing a renewed commitment from Iran to suspend much of its nuclear program and to return to negotiations with the European Union.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told UN participants at the gathering that it was time to increase pressure against Iran, which built its nuclear program in secret over 18 years.

''When diplomacy has been exhausted, the Security Council must become involved," Rice said. The council can impose sanctions or an oil embargo.

But key countries of influence, including Russia, China, and India, have said they want the issue dealt with outside the Security Council.

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

''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.

Ahmadinejad did not answer a question from an Israeli reporter and was evasive with others.

At his news conference he would not stand by his remarks last week that Iran would share technology with Muslim countries. He said Iran was looking for countries, but would not say which ones.

He offered other countries a partnership in Iran's uranium enrichment program and sought to broaden stalled talks with the European Union on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

''The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment," Ahmadinejad said.

The only country he mentioned as a possible partner was South Africa, but refused to provide any further details on how such an arrangement would work or which countries would be included.

Iran has made similar proposals, leaving diplomats at the United Nations wondering what happened to Ahmadinejad's promises to offer new ideas to stave off a crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency will meet in Vienna tomorrow to discuss Iran's nuclear program.

Iran has maintained that the program is designed to produce nuclear energy, not weapons. UN inspectors have not found any evidence of a weapons program, but several serious questions about the scale, scope, and history of the program remain unanswered and have fueled suspicion that Iran is concealing information.

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