Iran vows to push ahead with nuclear program

TEHRAN, Iran &

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed today to push ahead with Iran's nuclear activities, saying the West is trying to stop the program to prevent Iran from emerging as a world power.

The head of the U.N. nuclear agency, meanwhile, said he agreed with CIA estimates that Iran was three to eight years from being able to make nuclear arms.

International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei urged the United States and other U.N. Security Council members to abandon "rhetoric" in the standoff with Iran and pursue dialogue, saying it was the best way to keep the country from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But in a reflection of international divisions on how to handle the crisis, the United States has lodged a complaint against ElBaradei for suggesting that Iran be allowed to keep some elements of its uranium enrichment program, diplomats said. They say the U.S. fears such comments from ElBaradei could undermine efforts to pressure Iran into fully scrapping the program.

President Bush said he would work with allies for tougher sanctions on Iran after a new U.N. report showing that Tehran is accelerating its uranium enrichment program in defiance of international demands.

"We need to strengthen our sanctions regime," Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference. Leaders of Iran "continue to be defiant as to the demands of the free world," he said.

The president said he had directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to work with European partners to "develop further sanctions."

Ahmadinejad, in a speech to a gathering of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, ruled out any temporary suspension of enrichment.

"If we stop for a while, they (Iran's enemies) will achieve their goals. The enemy wants Iran to surrender so it won't have any say in the world," he said.

"If Iran's right to nuclear technology is confirmed, all nations of the world will gather under Iran's political banner. Enemies of Islamic Iran know this, and for this reason they have mobilized," Ahmadinejad said, according to state-run television.

On Wednesday, the IAEA reported Iran had expanded its enrichment program, findings that could lead to new U.N. sanctions. The report also warned that IAEA's knowledge of Iran's activities was shrinking.

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