Iran's firebrand president warned on Monday that his country would make an "appropriate and firm response" to any U.N. sanction over its nuclear program.
"Efforts by the big powers will only incite anger and hatred," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a large crowd on the outskirts of Tehran. "The Iranian nation will respond to restrictive activities with an appropriate and firm response," he said without elaborating.
The hard-line Iranian president gave his speech as key United Nations Security Council members were deliberating a draft European resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
Meanwhile, Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the U.N. that his organization has not been able to verify that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.
Security Council permanent members Russia and China have shied away from imposing punitive measures on their trade partner Iran, saying they prefer a diplomatic solution to the impasse. But the United States says the proposed sanctions are not tough enough.
Putin favors more negotiations
The Russian president told his Iranian counterpart on Monday that Russia strongly favors further negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program, the Kremlin said.
The brief Russian statement after a telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Ahmadinejad was the latest indication that Russia opposes sanctions against Iran and believes the international community should try to defuse tension through talks.
With Iran waving threats of a firm response to any U.N. sanction, it also appeared aimed to cool Tehran's rhetoric and cast Russia as a peacemaker.
In the Iranian-initiated conversation with Ahmadinejad, "Putin outlined the fundamental position of the Russian side in favor of a continuation of the negotiation process," the Kremlin said.
With the council divided, Ahmadinejad continued his defiance, telling the crowd that Iran would prefer to endure sanctions rather than bow to Western pressure.
"We want to stand on our own feet," he said. "You should know that our nation will not give in one iota in the nuclear case."
He also mocked Britain as a "follower of arrogance," for aligning itself to US foreign policy. The British "have simply become the guide for a blind U.S.," said Ahmadinejad.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair called last week on the Security Council to achieve a "proper, binding resolution" on Iran's nuclear activities, provoking fiery responses from the Iranian president.
"We do advise Britain not to squirm and not to do childish activities concerning the resolution," said the Iranian president, whose country was long under British influence.
"Iran's nation has stood up and will not let you achieve anything except humiliation," Ahmadinejad warned the British.
His speech was delivered after Iran officially confirmed on Friday that it has doubled its uranium enrichment capacity.
U.S. ultimatum for talks
President Bush insists that Washington will only agree to negotiate about Tehran's nuclear program if the Iranians first halt uranium enrichment, a key step to produce either peaceful nuclear power or an atomic bomb.
Iran insists its nuclear program is solely geared at peacefully producing electricity. But the U.S. and most western countries along with Israel fear Iranians want to build a nuclear arsenal.
On Monday, ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said that the IAEA was "unable at this stage to confirm the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program which, obviously, is a matter of serious concern."
ElBaradei referred to his earlier report to the Security Council verifying that Iran had ignored the Aug. 31 deadline to halt uranium enrichment.
The IAEA had not been able to "make progress resolving the outstanding issues — issues that require certain transparency measures on the part of Iran," said ElBaradei.
Chinese and Russian support?
Also Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki indicated that Tehran expects Russia and China to support it in the council deliberations.
"We are hopeful these countries would support Iran's reasonable stances as much as possible," Mottaki told reporters on the sidelines of an economic conference. "However, we only count on support by our nation."
Mottaki also urged the U.N. Security Council to avoid "illegal and incorrect decisions" — a reference to Iran's claim that as a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty it has the right to pursue a peaceful atomic energy program.
"I repeat again here that threatening and imposing sanctions could not keep the nation from achieving its inherent rights," he said.
The European members of the council — Britain, France and Germany — met last week to discuss the draft resolution.
On Monday, all six permanent Security Council members were expected to continue deliberations.