Iran says UN sanctions over nuclear row unlikely
TEHRAN, Apr 24 (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today said he did not expect UN sanctions to be imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme 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 UN Security Council has told its nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to report by Friday on its demands that Iran halt uranium enrichment and answer outstanding questions about its nuclear programme.
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 programme. Tehran says its programme is purely peaceful.
Russia and China are resisting pressure for sanctions against Iran from their fellow veto-holders on the Security Council, Britain, France and the United States.
But Russia said today 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.
US Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, asked in Qatar about a 7 billion dollar gas pipeline deal between Iran, Pakistan and India, said conducting business with Iran encouraged its atomic ambitions.
Washington has already imposed bilateral sanctions on Iran.
Iran said it was unconcerned by US 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 (IAEA). 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 (NPT).
''HUMILIATING DEFEAT'' The president, elected last year, did not repeat a previous call for Israel to be ''wiped off the map'' but he did criticise Israel, which the Islamic Republic has never recognised.
''What we say is that logically this fake regime cannot continue to live,'' he said.
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz today said Iran's nuclear programme was the most serious threat faced by Jews since the Nazi Holocaust. ''Since Hitler we have not faced such a threat,'' he told a news conference.
Founded partly as a haven for survivors of the German genocide of the Jews during World War Two, Israel is believed to have the West Asia's only atomic arsenal.
Iran's defence minister said any US military attack over its nuclear programme would result in a humiliating defeat for the United States, the official IRNA news agency reported.
His comments marked the anniversary of a US military attempt in 1980 to rescue Americans held hostage in the US embassy in Tehran. The mission failed when US helicopters crashed in a sandstorm in the Tabas desert in eastern Iran.
''If America chooses the military option a humiliating defeat worse than their failure in the Tabas desert will await them,'' Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar was quoted as saying.
Washington says it wants diplomacy to solve the nuclear standoff with Iran but has refused to rule out military action.
Asked about possible military strikes, Ahmadinejad was dismissive. ''Military attacks? On what pretext?'' he said, adding that Iran was strong and could defend itself.
REUTERS SHB KP2216