UNITED NATIONS – In a defiant speech, peppered with anti-American rhetoric and veiled threats, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told world leaders at the United Nations on Saturday that his country would never 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 new partners and warned that Iran would not “cave in to the excessive demands of certain powers.”
U.S. and European diplomats greeted the speech and comments the new president made at a news conference afterward with deep disappointment, saying it fell far short of expectations. Several officials predicted it would help them win support from allies weighing whether to send Iran’s nuclear case next week to the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose economic sanctions.
“What I heard today makes me predict that the option of reporting Iran to the Security Council remains on the agenda,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters even as Ahmadinejad was still speaking at the news conference.
Douste-Blazy and his British and German counterparts attended Ahmadinejad’s speech hoping to hear a commitment from Iran to suspend much of its nuclear program and return to negotiations with the European Union. But that was not in the speech.
The Bush administration and its European allies have struggled all week to convince other nations that the time has come to ratchet up pressure on Iran. But key countries of influence, including Russia, China and India, have said they want the issue dealt with outside the Security Council.
Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed told the U.N. gathering that it was time to increase pressure against the Islamic republic, 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 has the authority to impose sanctions or an oil embargo.
Rice urged Iran to return to the European negotiations but 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.