updated 5/14/2006 4:47:21 PM ET 2006-05-14T20:47:21

Iran’s president said Sunday it was pointless for Europe to devise an incentive package if it required Tehran to stop enriching uranium — effectively thwarting the latest international diplomatic effort before it even began.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke on state television after returning from Indonesia, where he was warmly welcomed and won developing nations’ support for the peaceful production of nuclear energy.

The hard-line leader said proposals for a political and economic package being shaped by the European Union were “invalid” if “they want to offer us things they call incentives in return for renouncing our rights.”

Also Sunday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman declared as “insignificant” reports that inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian research center.

Refusing to budge in his relentless and strident campaign to assert Iranian regional power and leadership, Ahmadinejad said opponents of Tehran’s nuclear program were “living in the era of colonialism” and did not respect Iran’s national sovereignty.

Iran insists its nuclear program is designed only to build electricity-generating reactors. The United States and some allies suspect Tehran is hiding a military program to make nuclear weapons.

Ahmadinejad’s remarks were clearly aimed at European Union foreign ministers meeting Monday in Brussels, Belgium, to consider sweetening a package of incentives that would entice Iran to suspend uranium enrichment — an issue that has now reached the U.N. Security Council but was put on hold to give the EU more time for diplomacy.

'It will be invalid for us'
Iran rejected last year's offer but the Europeans have tried to sweeten the proposal amid expectations that they will join the United States in urging the United Nations to take steps that could lead to sanctions if Iran refuses.

Several countries, including the United States, accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says its aims are peaceful and that it was enriching uranium to fuel electricity-generating nuclear power plants.

"Apparently, the gentlemen (Europe and the U.S.) are living in the era of colonialism and give no value to the standing of nations," the president said.

Referring to international pressure, Ahmadinejad said "when we are not present (in the decision-making process) it will be invalid for us."

"They want to offer us things they call incentives in return for renouncing our rights," he said, alluding to opponents of Tehran's nuclear program.

Traces of uranium called 'insignificant'
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi gave little weight to Friday's reports that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors had found traces of highly enriched uranium.

"It's insignificant. It's not important. Previously, things like this were said but later inspectors arrived at the right conclusions," Asefi told the media Sunday.

The IAEA determined earlier traces of highly enriched uranium were imported on equipment from Pakistan that Iran bought on the black market during nearly two decades of clandestine activity.

The U.S. argues that such reports strengthen suspicion that Tehran wants to develop nuclear arms.

The United States has led calls for the U.N. Security Council to adopt a binding resolution requiring Iran to halt enrichment if Tehran doesn't accept the European proposal.

Among the veto-wielding members of the council, Britain, France and the U.S. favor taking strong measures against Iran, while Russia and China oppose sanctions and want to focus on diplomatic means.

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