President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced defiance on Tuesday as a deadline neared for Iran to halt work the West fears is a step toward building nuclear bombs, and challenged US President George W. Bush to a televised debate.
In a news conference, Ahmadinejad condemned the US and British role in the world since World War Two but made no direct mention of the international nuclear confrontation.
“I suggest holding a live TV debate with Mr. George W. Bush to talk about world affairs and the ways to solve those issues,” he said.
A few days ago Ahmadinejad inaugurated a plant for the production of heavy water located in Arak, some 190 kilometers southwest of Tehran. The president made it clear that Iran would not ‘give up its right to develop its nuclear program,’ adding that the program does not pose a threat, not even against Israel.
“We do not threaten anyone, event the Zionist regime, which is the enemy,” he said.
The UN Security Council has given Iran until Thursday to suspend uranium enrichment—a process which can produce fuel for reactors or explosive material for warheads—and has threatened sanctions unless it does so.
Washington has called for a swift response if Iran does not meet the deadline. But analysts say divisions at the United Nations about how to handle Iran’s file could delay such a move.
Iran has shown no sign it will halt enrichment. The world’s fourth largest oil exporter has shrugged off the threat of sanctions and said such a move would simply push oil prices up to intolerable levels for industrialized economies.
Iran has said it is ready for immediate talks on its atomic plans but has refused to suspend enrichment before negotiations start, which was proposed in a package of incentives offered by the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany.
Russia and China, big trade partners of Iran who have veto powers in the UN Security Council, may oppose any move towards sanctions.
Washington, which already imposes unilateral sanctions on Iran, has suggested it could consider action outside the Security Council with other like-minded countries.