TEHRAN - Iran's supreme religious leader vowed yesterday that his country will pursue a peaceful atomic energy program and has no interest in nuclear weapons, calling them expensive and useless.
The remarks by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not represent any change in Iran's official position but were unusual because he said them publicly, just a few days before the major world powers are expected to offer Iran new incentives to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
Khamenei's remarks seemed clearly aimed at those powers, including the United States, that contend Iran covets nuclear weapons and might be secretly trying to develop the technology to build them. Khamenei called that a false accusation meant to deprive Iran of its legitimate right to nuclear power.
"The Iranian nation is not seeking nuclear weapons," the ayatollah said at an event commemorating the 19th anniversary of the death of the founder of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
"We are seeking nuclear energy for peaceful purposes for daily use and we will continue this path to the envy of our enemies," he said.
"You know the Iranian nation is in principle and on religious grounds against the nuclear weapon. Nuclear weapons only incur high costs and have no use. They do not bring power to a nation," he said.
The ayatollah's speech came a day after the State Department in Washington said it expected Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, to travel to Iran in mid-June to submit a package of new inducements to Iran if it abandons uranium enrichment, which can be used both to produce electric power and nuclear weapons.
Iran has consistently rejected demands that it stop enriching uranium, despite economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.
Khamenei's speech also appeared to be a response to comments by the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, who said Monday in an unusually tough speech that Iran was holding back information needed to clarify intelligence reports that it had researched nuclear bombs in secret.