TEHRAN, Apr 30 (Reuters) Iran renewed its defiant stance today, vowing to ignore a likely UN Security Council resolution against its atomic programme and to strike back if it came under military attack.
UN ambassadors from the United States, Britain and France are expected to introduce a resolution this week to legally oblige Iran to comply with the Council's demands, hitherto rebuffed by Tehran, that it halt all uranium enrichment work.
Failure to comply with the resolution could see Iran face limited sanctions, although veto-wielding Council members China and Russia say they do not favour such a move.
But Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, said Iran would continue to defy the council.
''Iran will not implement any forced resolution,'' he said in speech to university students in Tehran.
''Iran's plan is to have research and development and the nuclear fuel cycle in Iran,'' he added, underlining Iran's determination to continue production of nuclear fuel in defiance of calls from the United Nations that it stop.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned today the United States might take steps outside the Council to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear program.
Rice said Washington still had a number of diplomatic steps it could take through the Council against Iran. However, if the Council did not act quickly enough, Washington and its allies would not wait.
''I absolutely believe that we have a lot of diplomatic arrows in our quiver at the Security Council and also like-minded states that would be able and willing to look at additional measures if the Security Council does not move quickly enough,'' Rice said on the CBS show Face the Nation.
ENRICHMENT WORK Western countries fear Iran could produce highly enriched uranium for use in warheads rather than uranium enriched to the low level needed for power stations. Tehran says it has no interest in acquiring nuclear weapons.
Larijani's pledge to keep the fuel cycle in Iran ran counter to earlier remarks by Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi, who suggested there could be still be room to consider a proposal to move Iran's enrichment work to Russia.
Although Washington has said it prefers a diplomatic solution to the stand-off, analysts say US hawks who see Iran's enrichment of uranium as a tripwire for military action may feel there is not enough time for diplomacy.
''We have thought about a possible military attack,'' Larijani said. ''What the leader said should be taken seriously ... If they want to harm us, we will harm them.'' Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week Iran would harm US interests around the world if it was attacked.
Iran has told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it planned to start installing 3,000 centrifuges by the end of this year. If running continuously for a year these could produce enough uranium for a warhead.
Diplomats reckon the most likely first step against Iran would be Zimbabwe-style travel restrictions on politicians, before economic sanctions were considered.
Iran's economy would be particularly vulnerable to sanctions on gasoline imports, bank loans and engineering parts, diplomats and analysts say.
But oil officials say the embargoes against crude oil shipments from the world's number 4 exporter would be unthinkable.
Hydrocarbons account for 80 percent of Iran's export earnings.
Deputy Oil Minister Mohammad Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian said there was little risk of sanctions on Iran's energy sector while oil prices flirt with record highs above 70 dollars a barrel.
''Due to the sensitivity of the oil market, any action like that will increase oil prices very high. I believe (neither) the UN, (nor) other bodies will put any sanction on oil or the oil industry,'' he told a news conference in Islamabad.
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