- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

TEHRAN — Critics of its nuclear program are “bullying” Iran, its current president and a former president said yesterday in response to a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog that opens the way for additional sanctions against Iran.

The comments from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in separate speeches, appeared to show that the Iranian ruling establishment is closing ranks ahead of the possible new measures.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report Thursday said Iran has ignored a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze uranium enrichment — a possible pathway to nuclear arms — and instead has expanded its program by setting up hundreds of centrifuges.

Hours later, the United States said key countries would meet next week to try to develop a new U.N. resolution on the standoff.

In Washington, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said he will travel to London on Monday to meet with the United States’ negotiating partners to try to draft a new resolution regarding Iran.

“It is effectively thumbing its nose at the international community,” he said of Iran.

Mr. Burns said he hopes the United States and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, can quickly draft a resolution to “see Iran repudiated again.” He said it was too soon to say what provisions the resolution might contain.

Among the permanent council members, Britain and France are likely to join the United States in a call for harsher sanctions than Russia and China will accept.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told his Iranian counterpart that his country hoped “to peacefully resolve” the nuclear issue, the Xinhua news agency reported yesterday. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin likewise reiterated his country’s desire for a negotiated solution.

Divisions had emerged within the Iranian leadership over Mr. Ahmadinejad’s handling of the nuclear standoff since the council’s adoption of limited economic sanctions against Iran in December.

Some Iranians think Mr. Ahmadinejad has been too antagonistic toward the United States and its allies. Mr. Rafsanjani in recent weeks has emerged as a high-level advocate of a more conciliatory stance toward the West in the nuclear dispute.

But Mr. Rafsanjani told worshippers gathered for Friday prayers in Tehran that Western countries would fail to achieve anything by pressuring Iran about its nuclear activities.

And state television quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as telling a gathering of thousands in northern Iran: “The Iranian nation has resisted all bullies and corrupt powers, and it will fully defend all its rights.

“If a few states do not believe that Iran’s nuclear activities are peaceful, this is of no importance whatsoever,” he said at the rally in Fuman.

In a warning to the United States and its Western allies who want Iran to roll back its nuclear program, Mr. Rafsanjani, a high-ranking cleric who holds seats on two of Iran’s most important government bodies, said, “If you continue this bullying way, you will definitely make many troubles for yourselves, the world and the region.”

But he also reiterated Iran’s offer for talks. “We — all of us, our officials, our leader — are ready to provide you full assurances.” He did not elaborate.

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