Iran stays defiant on nuclear ambitions

Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed yesterday not to retreat “one iota” from its nuclear programme, denying claims it is building atomic weapons.

Key ally Russia gave Tehran a major boost, rejecting tighter sanctions despite a UN watchdog report detailing suspected arms-related advances.

Israel called on the world to stop Iran’s nuclear programme in response to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report.

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In his first reaction to the report, Mr Ahmadinejad strongly criticised the agency – a day after it claimed Tehran was on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon – saying the IAEA is discrediting itself by siding with “absurd” US accusations.

The comments, live on state television, were a sharp rebuke to Western warnings that Iran appears to be engaged in a dangerous defiance of international demands to control its nuclear ambitions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the report confirmed long-standing claims by Israel and Western countries that Iran is developing nuclear bombs.

Israel had been largely silent over the report, wanting to portray the issue as a global concern, not a dispute between two enemies. Israel sees Iran as an existential threat, citing the nuclear programme, Mr Ahmadinejad’s calls for Israel’s destruction and Iran’s support for Arab militant groups.

Israeli officials are hopeful the international community will pass tough new sanctions that cripple Iran’s key energy sector or target its central bank.

In Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France would support boosting sanctions against Tehran to an “unprecedented scale” if Iran stonewalls investigations, even as Israel and others say that military options are still possible.

But Russia, which has veto-wielding power on the UN Security Council, said new sanctions would be unacceptable.