- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

TEHRAN | Iran’s president on Tuesday dismissed a year-end deadline set by the Obama administration and the West for Tehran to accept a United Nations-drafted deal to swap enriched uranium for nuclear fuel. The United States warned Iran to take the deadline seriously.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also accused the U.S. of fabricating a purported Iranian secret document that appears to lay out a plan for developing a critical component of an atomic bomb.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks underscored Tehran’s defiance in the nuclear standoff - and also sought to send a message that his government has not been weakened by the protest movement sparked by June’s disputed presidential election. He spoke a day after the latest opposition protest by tens of thousands mourning a dissident cleric who died over the weekend.

Late Tuesday, the Web site of state-run television said Mr. Ahmadinejad had appointed a new chief of Iran’s prestigious Art Academy, removing opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from the post. Mr. Mousavi, a presidential challenger who alleged voting fraud, had attended Monday’s funeral procession.

President Obama has set a rough deadline of the end of this year for Iran to respond to an offer of dialogue on the nuclear issue. Washington and its allies are warning of new, tougher sanctions on Iran if it doesn’t respond.

The U.N. proposal is the centerpiece of the West’s diplomatic effort. Under the deal, Tehran would ship most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium abroad to be processed into fuel rods, which would ease the West’s fears that the material could be used to produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran, which denies it seeks to build a bomb, has balked at the deal’s terms.

The international community can give Iran “as many deadlines as they want, we don’t care,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a speech to thousands of supporters in the southern city of Shiraz.

Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed the threat of sanctions, saying Iran wants talks “under just conditions where there is mutual respect.”

“We told you that we are not afraid of sanctions against us, and we are not intimidated,” he said, addressing the West. “If Iran wanted to make a bomb, we would be brave enough to tell you.”

The U.S. responded sternly. “It is a very real deadline for the international community,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the international community was “united in its resolve that Iran must either answer the questions that we have about its nuclear aspirations or face additional pressure.”

In a separate interview with ABC News, Mr. Ahmadinejad accused the U.S. of forging the document that appears to describe an Iranian work plan for developing a neutron initiator, a key component in detonating a nuclear bomb.

“They are all a fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government.” He said the accusations that Iran seeks a weapon has “turned into a repetitive and tasteless joke.” The comments were aired Monday night.

The memo was first reported in the British newspaper Times of London. U.S. officials have said it’s not clear whether the document is real.

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