(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday that Teheran will continue to pursue nuclear technology, state television reported.
Khamenei's declaration came on the eve of Iran's self-imposed August 22 deadline to respond to a Western incentives package for it to roll back its nuclear program.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has made its own decision and in the nuclear case, God willing, with patience and power, will continue its path," Khamenei was quoted as saying by the broadcast.
Iran also turned away UN inspectors wanting to examine its underground nuclear site, heightening suspicions about its atomic agenda, diplomats and UN officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue announced Monday.
They said Iran's unprecedented refusal to allow access to the facility at Natanz could seriously hamper international attempts to ensure Teheran is not trying to produce nuclear weapons as well as violate a key part of the Nonproliferation Treaty.
Khamenei, meanwhile, also accused the United States of pressuring Iran despite Teheran's assertions that it was not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, as the United States and several of its allies have contended.
"Arrogant powers and the US are putting their utmost pressure on Iran while knowing Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons," he said.
US President George W. Bush said Monday Washington is getting some inkling of Teheran's response to international calls for it to abandon its nuclear ambitions. A UN Security Council resolution passed last month called on Teheran to suspend uranium enrichment by Aug. 31 or face the threat of economic and diplomatic sanctions.
"We are beginning to get some indication, but we'll wait until they have a formal response," Bush said. "Dates are fine, but what really matters is will. And one of the things I will continue to remind our friends and allies is the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran."
Iran on Sunday said it will offer a "multifaceted response" to the Western incentives proposal. It insisted that it won't suspend uranium enrichment altogether.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Monday for a "solid answer" from Iran on the package.
"I still hope that it will be positive, although some signals have been very confused," said Merkel, whose country drew up the package with the five permanent Security Council members.
The proposal includes promises that the United States and Europe will provide civilian nuclear technology and that Washington will join direct talks with Iran.
Germany, along with France and Britain, also has been at the forefront of efforts to persuade Iran to rein in its nuclear program. Tehran is a key backer of Hezbollah, whose capture of two Israeli soldiers triggered the fighting in Lebanon.
Asked whether a quick agreement on Lebanon was important to moving the nuclear issue forward, Merkel said that "for me, the things hang together very closely."
"A UNIFIL mandate in which Europe did not take a significant share of responsibility naturally would not be a good signal to Iran," she said. "But I don't think that will happen."
"The international community's determination to agree on a peaceful political process and push it through by taking responsibility ... is the only thing that makes an impression on a political leadership like Iran has now," Merkel said.
Teheran says uranium enrichment does not violate any of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and that its nuclear program aims to produce electricity.
Khamenei accused the West of wanting to obstruct scientific progress in the Islamic world and called for Islamic countries to stand together in the face of such pressure.