With a UN Security Council deadline just hours away, Iran called for talks with the United States, but did not budge on council demands that it mothball its uranium enrichment program or face harsher sanctions.
Amid Iran's defiance, the UN nuclear watchdog finalized a report that is to be released Thursday and is expected to formally confirm the Islamic republic's refusal to freeze enrichment, a conclusion that could subject it to tougher UN sanctions.
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Officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency said the report, by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based agency, would say that Iran has expanded enrichment efforts instead of freezing them.
Once released, the report will be sent to the agency's 35-nation board and to the UN Security Council, which had set Wednesday as a deadline for Iran to freeze enrichment activities, and had said that defiance of that deadline could lead to sanctions in addition to those imposed last month.
In moderate remarks Wednesday directed at Washington, the key backer of tougher UN action, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the dispute "has to be decided peacefully with the United States."
But other top Iranian officials used harsher language, and none showed signs of compromise on the main demand of the US and other world powers - a halt to enrichment and related activities.
"The enemy is making a big mistake if it thinks it can thwart the will of the Iranian nation to achieve the peaceful use of nuclear technology," Iranian state TV's Web site quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying.
On Tuesday, he said Iran was ready to halt its enrichment program, but only if Western nations did the same.
The White House dismissed Ahmadinejad's call.
"Do you believe that's a serious offer?" White House Press Secretary Tony Snow asked. "It's pretty clear that the international community has said to the Iranians, `You can have nuclear power, but we don't want you to have the ability to build nuclear weapons.' And that is an offer we continue to make."
US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said Wednesday night in Washington that only a handful of countries are backing Iran in its defiance of the Security Council demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment program.
Burns described Iran as being in the clutches of "diplomatic pincer movement" that could force the country to resume negotiations on its controversial nuclear program.
He said Iran is beginning to feel economic pressures as well, citing in particular a sharp decline in export credits from Europe in the recent past.
Discussions on a new resolution aimed at stepping up pressure on Iran to suspend enrichment were expected to start next week, a Security Council diplomat said in New York, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The council debate will focus on what new non-military sanctions to include in the resolution, the European diplomat said. They could include a travel ban against individuals on a UN list, an expansion of the list, economic measures such as a ban on export guarantees to Iran, and an expansion of the nuclear embargo to an arms embargo, the council diplomat said.
Another Security Council diplomat spoke of an "incremental" strengthening of sanctions.
That diplomat said the five permanent council members, the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, all believed the initial sanctions have had a positive effect on Iran.
Still, Russia and China, both veto-holding council members with close ties to Iran, were likely to oppose strict economic sanctions or weapons bans. A travel ban was dropped from the initial resolution because of Moscow's opposition, so future negotiations were expected to be tough.
Russia and France on Wednesday called for unity in the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, but also stressed that the international community should remain open to dialogue with Tehran.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov placed less emphasis than his French counterpart on the need to be firm with Iran, saying that nations must "preserve unity and consistency, firmness, if you will, but ... at all stages, openness to negotiations" with Tehran.