President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday he did not expect U.N. sanctions to be imposed on Iran over its nuclear program and vowed to press ahead with uranium enrichment on an industrial scale.
“I think it is very unlikely for them to be so stupid as to do that,” he said at a rare news conference when asked about Western pressure for sanctions to curb Iran’s atomic ambitions.
“I think even the two or three countries who oppose us are wise enough not to resort to such a big mistake,” he said. “Those who are speaking of sanctions would suffer more harm.”
The U.N. Security Council has told the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to report by Friday on its demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment and answer outstanding questions about its nuclear program.
Asked about the council’s demands, Ahmadinejad said: “It’s not like we just follow whatever they issue.”
The United States and its allies suspect Iran is trying to build atomic weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear program. Tehran says its program is purely peaceful.
Russia, China against sanctions
Diplomats in Vienna said an IAEA finding that Iran was in defiance of the council looked virtually inevitable. “What Iran was asked to do they are clearly not doing, they’re doing the opposite,” said one Western diplomat, asking not to be named.
Russia and China, with hefty business stakes in Iran, are resisting pressure for sanctions from fellow veto-holders on the Security Council, Britain, France and the United States.
However, Russia said on Monday it was “categorically opposed” to Iran gaining the knowledge that would allow it to develop nuclear weapons, three Russian news agencies quoted a Kremlin source as saying.
“It is another issue how to tactically achieve this goal. On this question Russia has differences with the United States,” the agencies quoted the source as saying.
With Russia and China opposing international sanctions in the U.N. Security Council, the Western powers do not intend to field such a resolution immediately after the IAEA report.
Instead they want to begin with a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter that would give legal force to demands on Iran contained in IAEA resolutions and in an earlier council statement -- such as suspending uranium enrichment.
“Our expectation would be -- assuming no change of direction by Iran, and there is no reason to think there will be a change of direction -- that we will look at a Chapter 7 resolution to make mandatory all of the existing IAEA resolutions,” U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said in New York.
Iran: 'We are not concerned'
U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, asked in Qatar about a $7 billion gas pipeline deal between Iran, Pakistan and India, said conducting business with Iran encouraged its atomic ambitions. Washington has imposed its own sanctions on Iran.
Iran said it was unconcerned by U.S. threats over investment in the world’s fourth largest oil exporter. “The truth is that investment in Iran is going well and we are not concerned,” Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri told reporters at the Qatar oil forum.
Ahmadinejad reiterated that his country would pursue large-scale uranium enrichment to fuel power stations.
“Enrichment means production of nuclear fuel. We have passed the laboratory phase of this science and by God’s will the next step will be industrial production,” he declared.
“Our certain policy is working in the framework of the NPT and with the agency. If we find out they want to damage our rights in that framework, we can reconsider,” he said.
It was not clear if this was a veiled threat to quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.